Surge in orphans as Indonesia’s coronavirus crisis continues its march
Published on: Wednesday, July 28, 2021
By: The Telegraph
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It is not known how many children will end up being orphaned. (Reuters)
JAKARTA: Like many young children, Vino, 10, is afraid of the dark. Normally his pregnant mother would comfort him until he drifts to sleep, but last week she and his father suddenly died, snatched in the prime of life by the Covid-19 wave ravaging Indonesia.

The endless cruelty of the virus meant that Vino, who also tested positive, was denied even the comfort of a hug as he received the devastating news from his uncle, who told him through the door of his village home in East Kalimantan.

“Yesterday, my uncle told me from outside the house that my parents are gone, together with the baby. I was not invited to go to the funeral,” he said.

“I cried, of course, knowing that my parents died. I am now a kid with no parents. I cried again in the night time ... outside was so dark. I am afraid of dark,” he added.

“I have to turn on all the lamps. I never turn them off even when I want to sleep, because I am afraid if a ghost comes he will eat or kidnap me. Here in this area, ghosts are very cruel.”

Indonesia, now the epicentre of the global coronavirus, has reported more than 80,000 deaths in total out of more than three million cases. Official figures are considered to be vast underestimates of the true toll, due to a lack of testing and contact tracing.

Last week, Save the Children warned that Indonesian children who lost parents to the pandemic were at risk of ending up in orphanages, illegal adoption or could be pushed into child labour or underage marriage.

“Social workers tell us they’re seeing more and more children in need of care, and we’re concerned that the situation will get even worse as the death toll from Covid-19 continues to rise,” said Dino Satria, chief of the humanitarian and resilience programme at Save the Children Indonesia.

As the pandemic rages around the country, overwhelming the health system to the point where the infected are dying at home without care, the charity has set up a support helpline to take children’s calls.

Vino’s Uncle Margono has now become his chief caregiver, although he worries about whether his daily wage as a street food seller will stretch to feeding another mouth.

Terrified of catching the disease that killed his younger brother Kino, Margono currently sleeps in the open, outside his nephew’s home, to keep him safe at night. Vino sleeps in the living room, in front of the television.

He explained that Kino had received his first vaccination before he started to feel unwell with stomach problems and exhaustion. He sold noodle soup from a cart and, like many daily wage labourers, could not afford to self-isolate or take time to recover.

Eventually, nausea, headaches and dizziness forced him to seek care at the local health centre where he was diagnosed with Covid-19. Tragically, his young, pregnant wife, Lina, 29, was also infected.

When the village ran out of medicine, both were transferred to hospital, but they died within a day of each other, along with their unborn second child.

Nahar, the deputy minister for child protection – who like many Indonesians only uses one name - said the government was already preparing its response to Covid’s impact on children and would aim to settle those who had lost parents with extended family rather than in orphanages.

He said financial help would be provided to the most needy, but admitted the authorities were still trying to get an accurate picture of the crisis.

Orphanages are already feeling the impact of the pandemic.

Rahmawati, the director of an orphanage in Surabaya, East Java, one of the nation’s Covid-19 hotspots, said a rise in children coming through their gates had coincided with a drastic decline in donations, leaving the institution struggling to cope.

The orphanage currently relies on volunteers to care for and counsel about 80 children.

Some families receive help from government social workers like Ulfah, who works in the villages of South Sulawesi. She said she was providing baby formula and basic supplies to the family of a seven-month-old boy whose Covid-positive mother had died in childbirth.

She said the baby was doing well but she feared for older children who may be forced to quit school as family breadwinners had died.

Ulfah said children from families struck by the virus were often stigmatised in their communities.

“They get bullied and left behind,” she said.

“Their friends avoid them. The neighbours don’t want their kids to interact with them because they have Covid. I have had to explain to the neighbours that they can’t ostracise them, they have to give support while they wait for their condition to improve.”

For Vino, the sudden disappearance of his friends is bewildering and has compounded his grief.

“I am still not allowed to play outside and my friends don’t call for me to play with them. They seem avoid me and I don’t know if I’ve done something wrong,” he said.

“I am sad. I have no parents anymore and I don’t have friends either. Who do I live with? Life is not fair.” 


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