SARAJEVO, March 26 (FENA) – The UNICEF urges governments to ensure the safety and well-being of children amid growing social and economic failures due to the coronavirus pandemic. Together with the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, UNICEF has issued a list of guidelines to support the authorities and organizations involved in crisis response.
“In many ways, this situation affects children and families far more strongly than the disease itself. Schools are closing. Parents struggle to take care of their children and make ends meet. The risks to child protection are piling up. These guidelines provide governments and protection authorities with a brief overview of practical measures that can be taken to protect children in such precarious conditions,” said Cornelius Williams, Associate Director of Child Protection Programme Division at UNICEF.
Stigma related to COVID-19 has left some children more vulnerable to violence and psychosocial distress. At the same time, control measures that do not account for the gender-specific needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls may also increase their risk of sexual exploitation, abuse and child marriage. Recent anecdotal evidence from China, for instance, points to a significant rise in cases of domestic violence against women and girls.
Increased rates of abuse and exploitation of children have occurred during previous public health emergencies. School closures during the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, for example, contributed to spikes in child labor, neglect, sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies. In Sierra Leone, cases of teenage pregnancy more than doubled to 14,000 from before the outbreak.
As part of the guidance, the Alliance is recommending that governments and protection authorities take concrete steps to ensure the protection of children is integral to all COVID-19 prevention and control measures, including:
Train health, education and child services staff on COVID-19 related child protection risks, including on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse and how to safely report concerns;
Train first responders on how to manage disclosure of gender-based violence (GBV Pocket Guide), and collaborate with healthcare services to support GBV survivors;
Increase information sharing on referral and other support services available for children;
Engage children, particularly adolescents, in assessing how COVID-19 affects them differently to inform programming and advocacy;
Provide targeted support to interim care centers and families, including child-headed households and foster families, to emotionally support children and engage in appropriate self-care;
Provide financial and material assistance to families whose income-generating opportunities have been affected; and
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, ensure the protection of all children is given the utmost consideration in disease control measures.