By Vatican News staff writer
As the global death toll due to the Covid-19 health emergency officially crossed the 4 million mark earlier this month, the UN Children’s Fund is drawing attention to the plight of children left without one or both parents.
UNICEF said that while it may be too early to estimate the number of children orphaned or abandoned as a result of the pandemic, the spike in deaths in some countries has put children in situations of increased vulnerability, accompanied with further emotional distress and protection concerns.
Amid the crises, vulnerable children are exposed to increased risk of losing parental care due to death, severe illness or financial hardship. These, in turn, increase their risk of being placed in unsuitable alternative care, the international Childrens’ Fund said in a statement on Sunday.
Children greatly affected
As the world struggles to battle with the wide-ranging effects of the pandemic, the statement points at the immediate and long-term damage on children caused by family separation and unsuitable alternative care, particularly in institutions.
These children, UNICEF notes, “may experience forced cohabitation and fixed routines not tailored to their individual needs.” In addition, “they are frequently deprived of the ability to make choices that suit their best interests.”
More so, children in alternative care are regularly isolated from their families and local communities, and, deprived of parental care, “they can endure physical, psychological, emotional and social harm, with consequences that last a lifetime.” Consequently, children in these situations are more likely to experience violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
In order to curb this situation both immediately and in the long-term, UNICEF recommends that governments provide families with the “emotional, practical and financial support they need” and work to support a system where children deprived of parental care can be looked after by extended family members instead of placing them in unsuitable alternative care.
To do this, UNICEF urges that families be provided continued access to social protection, counseling and health care and child protection services be strengthened for vulnerable children and families. At the same time, authorities could work with employers to promote family-friendly policies that allow caregivers to care for the child under all circumstances, and schools and other children’s services could be made open and accessible.
UNICEF concluded the statement with a call to “protect every child’s right to live and grow up in an environment that supports their physical, psychological, social and emotional development” amid the Covid-19 pandemic.