THE estimate that over 19 lakh children in India lost a parent or caregiver to COVID, made in a study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, a UK-based, peer-reviewed medical journal, has been questioned by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development [WCD Ministry] and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights [NCPCR].
The Lancet study, titled Global, regional, and national minimum estimates of children affected by COVID-19-associated orphanhood and caregiver death, by age and family circumstance up to Oct 31, 2021: an updated modelling study and published on Thursday, analyzed data from 21 countries (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, England and Wales, France, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, the USA, and Zimbabwe) and found that 52 lakh children in these countries lost a parent or caregiver in the period between March 1, 2020 and October 31, 2021. The study was conducted by US, UK and South Africa-based researchers.
On the other hand, as per data with the WCD Ministry from its Baal Swaraj (COVID-Care) portal that was analysed by The Print, 1,53,827 children were either orphaned, lost a single parent, or were abandoned during the COVID pandemic. This figure is only eight per cent of the number of such children estimated by the Lancet study, which is 19,17,100.
The Bal Swaraj (COVID-Care) portal was created by NCPCR in May last year “for online tracking and digital real time monitoring mechanism of children who are in need of care and protection”, and “for tracking children who have lost both its parents or either of the parent during COVID-19”, as per a press release by the Press Bureau of India. Data in this portal is filled up by officials from district child welfare committees and state commissions for protection of child rights. In an order dated May 28 last year, the Supreme Court had directed district authorities to upload data about such children on the portal expeditiously.
NCPCR Chairperson Priyank Kanoongo has issued a notice to Lancet, asking it to “share the foundation for their data”, as per the New Indian Express.
However, as per a response by the WCD Ministry to a Parliamentary query, only 3,890 COVID orphans had been registered with the Ministry as of February 5. These are the number of applications approved for the PM Cares for Children scheme, as per which financial support and rehabilitation shall be provided to all children who lost both their parents to COVID, till they reach the age of 18 years.