Vulnerable children who have lost their caregivers to Covid at grave risk of abuse and exploitation

A study published in the Lancet on children impacted by COVID-19, which estimates a staggering 1.5 million children have lost at least one parent or grandparent to the virus, is a wake-up call that cannot be ignored, warns Save the Children.

Governments and organisations need to step up and protect these children, Save the Children said, to prevent them from falling victim to hunger, abuse, poverty, or exploitation, or being put into institutional care.

Bidisha Pillai, Global Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns Director for Save the Children said:

“We cannot allow any more victims, even if indirect, of this pandemic. If we do not protect this generation, they run the risk of being left behind. As children lose one or even two parents, families are often pushed further into poverty, which can mean children will drop out of school and work, to help with the family income. These children will not return to school and will likely be trapped in a cycle of poverty.

“Without caregivers, children are particularly vulnerable. The pandemic undermined the education of hundreds of millions of children, and the loss of school days exposed girls, boys and adolescents to the risk of child labour, early marriage and pregnancy, and permanently dropping out of school.”

The impact of the coronavirus has already worsened the living conditions of children around the world, undermining decades of progress made to safeguard the most vulnerable, and severely affecting their future. Weak health systems and child protection systems have collapsed and, where many families have plunged into poverty, child malnutrition rates have increased as families have lost their sources of income and sometimes their livelihoods.

In Indonesia, which has now become the epicentre of the pandemic in Asia, Save the Children is particularly concerned for children who have lost their parents, fearing they may be sent to institutional care. The organisation has made great gains in recent decades via its Families First program to keep thousands of vulnerable children safe at home with family.

Karen Flanagan AM, Principal Advisor on Child Protection for Save the Children Australia said:

“Save the Children has supported Indonesia to develop evidence-based programs to keep children safe and in the care of families, but with this dramatic increase in orphaned children, we have grave concerns that children will be placed at risk. We do not want to revert to placing children in ‘Panti’ (orphanages). Children who have lost parents need support to be rehomed with safe relatives and families.

“We have been working with the Indonesian Government on the ongoing transformation of the care system. Indonesia has come a long way in supporting vulnerable children and families to prevent institutional care by strengthening families and promoting family-based care as the primary form of protection. It is critical to continue on this path during the coronavirus pandemic and we’re hoping to secure further public and private funding to keep it going, as well as advocating for ongoing budget prioritisation by the Indonesian Government.”

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