Corona Pandemic besides having a devastating effect on the lives of people, it is also changing the family dynamics by keeping the already vulnerable children under high-risk situations and has been the root cause of child abuse and neglect. Within no time, the lives of children and families around the world turned upside down. The education of approximately 1.6 billion pupils in 190 countries has so far been affected which accounts for 90% of the student’s population globally. As there are no schools, the child’s daily routine has been interrupted and there are also elevated rates of child abuse because the parents and care givers are under new stress who may have to give up their work. Movement restriction amidst pandemic has thrown the children into confusion as there is no support system from relatives and friends. Because of the immediate measures taken by the government in order to reduce the spread of pandemic, millions of children all over the world are under threat of safety and wellbeing which includes mistreatment, gender-based violence, social exclusion and separation from parents and caregivers. Reduced parental supervision can leave children more vulnerable to violence, exploitation and abuse.
COVID-19 stigma has kept few children at high risk of violence and psychosocial stress. “The disease is currently approaching children and families in several ways than it directly attacks”, said Cornelius Williams, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection. During infectious disease outbreaks, caregivers may not be able to extend care to their children because of illness, death or due to psychological distress. The same scenario took place in the past public health emergencies. Due to the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, the schools were closed resulting in child labour, neglect, sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies. The cases of teenage pregnancies were increased to 14,000 in Sierra Leone, because of outbreak which was double the number before the outbreak.
CHILD PROTECTION ISSUES
Separation of children from caregivers is caused due to death or disability of care giver or when the children are sent away by the parents to other family members to non-affected areas. A two-year-old boy tested Covid-19 positive in Delhi’s Kalawati Saran Children’s Hospital, spent tough night in isolation ward because of separation from parents.
Psychological distress is due to fear of infection with the disease or stigmatisation of individual infected with or suspected to be infected or also due to death or illness of closed ones. Two to three-year olds, separated from their parents, show signs of anxiety through extreme clinginess after their parents return from quarantine. “A mother told me that her child is not even letting her go to the bathroom. In slightly older children, three to six-year-olds, a common thought is ‘did I do something wrong that my parents went away’,” said a doctor.
Sexual violence is caused due to death or illness of care giver which reduces family protection. Many countries are reporting a spike in domestic and sexual violence cases and also violence against children. A third of all the crimes in Kenya were related to sexual violence ever since the COVID pandemic arrived.
child labour is due to the loss of household income because of the death or illness of the caregiver. Millions of children are vulnerable to child labour due to the pandemic. The world’s commitment to ending child labour by 2025 is likely to get difficult because of the crisis. There is a sudden rise in child labour ever since 2000. Unemployment of parents because of the financial crisis in Brazil has led the children to step out for providing short term support.
Social Exclusion is because of the social stigmatization of individuals infected or of individuals suspected to be infected. The social crisis caused by the COVID-19 has also chances of increasing inequality, exclusion, discrimination, and global unemployment in the medium and long term if not properly addressed through policy.
Neglect is due to death or illness of caregiver or abandonment due to fear of transmission. “The emotional needs of children are totally being neglected at the moment,” Rapa says. Even though children are provided with sufficient materials on the physical effects on how to combat the disease they are getting the least support while coping with the stress which is the need of the hour.
Physical Violence is the result of the loss of household income due to death or illness of caregiver which increases family tensions which in turn leads to domestic violence. Young girls are more vulnerable to physical violence as parents are ready to marry minor girls during this pandemic. Activists feel that girls who try to avoid marriages are facing physical violence in their houses but are not able to reach the helplines because of lockdown.
CHILD PROTECTION DURING PANDEMIC (At Micro Level-Parents and Care givers)
- It is important for the parents to remind about the basic actions the children need to follow particularly in these pandemic situations, like frequently washing hands with soap, not touching the face and social distancing which helps in protecting both themselves and their community.
- Talk and listen: Ask the children to talk about what’s going on. Let them express whatever they are feeling due to this pandemic so they can be relieved from stress.
- Have Corona free time. Make sure that the corona conversations don’t dominate every time which may create fear in the children. Ask them to play games, listen, music.
- Make sure that kids eat first if things really get tough in respective to income earned by the family.
At Macro Level-Government
- Health, education, and child services staff should be trained on pandemic related child protection risks including prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse and how to safely report the issues.
- Develop referral pathways and offer psychosocial support to children whose caregivers or family members are admitted to treatment centers.
- The delivery of essential health services should be safe and secured through ring-fence midwives and nurses who provide perinatal care.
- Financial and materialistic support should be provided to the families who are facing financial crises amidst the pandemic which can be indirectly helpful to the children.
- As the schools were closed, the government should develop, broadcast and publish distant content (classes on television, online), print and safely distribute textbooks and workbooks for home study.
The pandemic has created chaos for the child’s future, right from the academic success to social skills and also affecting their mental health. Protecting the child is the need of the hour as the fall out may not leave them throughout their lives. The best interest of the child is the main objective which can be achieved by protecting the child and giving the most priority to them in these pandemic situations.