COVID-19: Risks to Children
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Despite the attempts to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of millions of children worldwide are likely to face increased threats to their welfare and well-being, including mistreatment, gender-based abuse, neglect, social isolation and caregiver separation. UNICEF calls upon governments to ensure children’s health and well-being despite the growing socio-economic effects of the disease. Together with partners from the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, the United Nations Children’s Agency has issued a set of recommendations supporting the authorities and organizations participating in the response.

COVID-19 has improved the lives of children and families worldwide in a few months. Although deemed necessary, quarantine measures such as school closures and movement restrictions are disrupting children’s habits and support systems. We also bring additional stressors to caregivers who might need to forget about work.

COVID-19 stigma has subjected some children to abuse and psychosocial distress. Forms of regulation that do not address the gender needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls may also increase their risk of sexual harassment, violence and child marriage. For example, recent Chinese anecdotal data suggest a substantial increase in cases of domestic violence against girls and boys.

“The disease affects children and families in many respects beyond those directly affected by it,” said Cornelius Williams, Head of Child Protection at UNICEF. “Schools close.” Schools close. Parents struggle to provide for their children and achieve their goals. Child safety risks are rising. This guidance provides the government and security agencies with a panorama of realistic steps to safeguard children in these unpredictable times. “Increased levels of child neglect and trafficking in past public health crises have occurred. School closures during Ebola virus disease outbreaks in West Africa between 2014 and 2016, for example, have led to increases in child labour, poverty, sexual exploitation and abortions in teenagers. Cases of teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone more than doubled to 14,000 prior to the outbreak.

The Alliance recommends, as part of the guideline, that governments and protective agencies take clear steps to ensure that child safety is part of all COVID-19 prevention and control initiatives, including:

1 Train health, education and child services personnel on the risks associated with COVID-19 child safety, including prevention of sexual exploitation and violence, and how to address security concerns;
2 Train first responders on how to manage disclosure of gender-based violence (GBV Pocket Guide), and collaborate with healthcare services to support GBV survivors;
3 Increase information sharing on referral and other support services available for children;
4 Engage children, particularly adolescents, in assessing how COVID-19 affects them differently to inform programming and advocacy;
5 Provide targeted support to interim care centres and families, including child-headed households and foster families, to emotionally support children and engage in appropriate self-care;
6 Provide financial and material assistance to families whose income-generating opportunities have been affected; and
7 Put in place concrete measures to prevent child-family separation, and ensure support for children left alone without adequate care due to the hospitalization or death of a parent or caregiver; and
8 Ensure the protection of all children is given the utmost consideration in disease control measures.

Download the technical notice on the pandemic of coronavirus safety for children:

Data source: UNICEF Zimbabwe and APO

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