According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the economic backlash of the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out some 81 million jobs in Asia-Pacific last year. Moreover, millions of other workers were also asked to reduce their work hours. In a report titled, “Asia-Pacific Employment and Social Outlook 2020,” working hours in the region decreased by an estimated 15.2 percent in the second quarter and by 10.7 percent in the third quarter of 2020, relative to pre-crisis levels.
Back in October, the World Bank estimated that between 88 and 115 million people worldwide would be pushed into extreme poverty in 2020. In a more recent forecast, the organisation now expects the COVID-19-induced new poor in 2020 to rise between 119 and 124 million.
The ASEAN Post has published a number of articles about the repercussions of COVID-19, poverty and unemployment. In a desperate bid to earn a quick buck during these difficult times, some have even resorted to selling their bodies, or borrowing money from loan sharks. Others have asked their children to take a leave of absence from school to join the harsh labour force.
Global media have also reported incidences of child marriages, as impoverished parents are unable to take care of their children.
Other than that, some experiencing immense financial difficulties have also taken another extreme step to alleviate their burden, that is, by abandoning those under their care.
A few months ago, a heart-breaking story was picked up by Malaysian media which went viral across the country. Images of an abandoned baby boy, fast asleep inside a cardboard box were circulated on social media. A note was also attached to the baby, asking the public to take good care of the child.
“We apologise for not being able to care for Muhammad Arif due to financial constraints,” the note read. “We seek assistance from anyone who can care and look after him.” Baby diapers, talc and wet tissues were also found in the box, next to the infant. He was found in front of a local surau.
Malaysia is notorious for baby-dumping cases with a baby dumped every three to four days, as reported by local media. OrphanCare Foundation, a Malaysian non-profit organisation reported that 45 babies were rescued nationwide between March and December last year during the country’s partial lockdown.
This social problem is not exclusive to Malaysia, but is happening all over the world as well. In India where millions of children are left each year by their parents, the pandemic has led to this phenomenon of abandoning children to rise dramatically.
Give India, India’s largest charity group, said that “a large number of young and older children from marginalised sections of society have been collateral victims of the pandemic. This includes child labourers, abandoned children, those living in child care institutions (CCIs), orphanages, as well as street children. Many among these vulnerable children are malnourished which makes them highly susceptible to the virus.”
The group also added that while the number of abandoned children has increased during the pandemic, adoption activities were also disrupted due to COVID-19.
Unfortunately, it’s not just babies and children being abandoned during the health crisis, but the elderly too. Some would leave their older and ill parents in nursing homes, while some, would cruelly leave them in public areas, never to be seen again.
Back in March 2020, soldiers in Spain made a shocking discovery while disinfecting a nursing home – elderly people were abandoned and some were even dead in their beds. This came as Spain was experiencing its first wave of COVID-19 cases.
Unfortunately, abandonment of the elderly has also been reported in ASEAN member states.
In February alone, Malaysia highlighted two cases of abandoned senior citizens. Earlier this month, a man in his 60s was abandoned by his family members at a surau located in the outskirts in the country’s capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Local media reported that his family had brought him to the surau for a congregational prayer only as a ploy to drive him out of the house.
In a separate incident reported days after, an elderly Malaysian woman in a wheelchair was found alone by the road with diapers and a bag of clothes. Officials said that “efforts to contact her family were made but we did not get them to cooperate when not a single family member was willing to take her home and gave many excuses.”
The woman also has an amputated leg, as well as bad memory. Despite it all, the woman still wished the best for her child.
In the Philippines, the number of abandoned elderly people has been increasing every year.
“Imagine being abandoned by your own daughter. That’s very painful. I have many relatives but no one is willing to take care of me,” 73-year-old Timoteo told local media. He is currently under the care of the House of the Lord, a foster home for abandoned elderly in Talisay City.
“When my daughter was a baby, I made sure not one fly would touch her. I don’t know why she has become this way,” he added.
Fr. Rowell Gumalay, head of the House of the Lord, said that some families find it a burden to care for the elderly. Timoteo’s story was reported back in March 2020. Perhaps in recent months, as things get tougher due to the pandemic, more senior citizens will face similar experiences as their children can no longer afford to take care of them.