Diocesan Partnership Helps Shape Policy on Orphans

As Brazil continues to contain its surging COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have left more than 130,000 children unexpectedly orphaned.

Offering assistance to the government, several Catholic archdioceses and affiliated agencies have been working to find stable placements for the minors to avoid their being placed in temporary shelters. According to a July study published in the widely respected medical journal, The Lancet, Brazil has the second highest number of orphans caused by COVID-19 infections among the countries of the world.

This unexpected burden has exhausted the Brazilian social service infrastructure, who are in desperate need of donations of food kits, clothes, and toys for the younger children.

Despite many orphanages in the country being run by the Catholic Church, according to said Maristela Cizeski, the Coordinator of the Child Ministry Office of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference, orphanages should be viewed as the option of last resort.

Cizeski said,”Children that have recently lost their parents or caretakers and go live in a shelter face a shocking experience. It’s not as warm as living with a family.”

Prosecutor Márcio Thadeu Marques from the State of Maranhão cited a study that noted the institutionalization of children tends to have negative impacts on children’s developments.

“That’s an exceptional measure,” he told NCR. “Children have the right to stay with their families according to international treaties and the Brazilian legislation.”

Inspired by his Catholic faith, Marques said the government “must” do more to assist these unexpected victims of tragedy.

Working with the Brazilian government, he has used his relationships within the bureaucracy to protocol the development and implementation of protocols to support children who lost their caregivers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He notes his biggest accomplishment is just requiring hospitals in his state to ascertain whether patients with COVID-19 have children which will allow the government to plan.

“People who are hospitalized with the disease are now asked if they have children and if there is anybody to take care of them,” he explained.

“The same thing is done when a person goes to a notary’s office to issue a death certificate for a relative. This way, the state knows who those children and teenagers are and can adequately monitor their situation,” he added.

In what to others might seem like a minor concession, Marques knows this will have a profound effect on the ability of the state to provide a level of quality care. 

Additionally, Maranhão adopted the policy of providing low income relatives of persons who assume custody of minors orphaned by COVID-19 with a social aid stipend until the child turns 18-years-old. 

When this idea was presented at an interstate convention of the Northeast region of the country, many of the governors of the other states began implementing similar legislation in their home states.

“Income safety is fundamental to avoid the separation of siblings, for instance. The state must secure the children’s rights to housing, education, health care and food. We know that orphans are more vulnerable to problems like sexual abuse and exploitation and child labor,” Marques said.

As officials and the church continue to advocate for orphans their long term strategy is for the national government to adopt policies similar to what is emerging at the local state levels. 

Source: National Catholic Reporter