Protecting Children from Violence in the Time of COVID-19: Disruptions in prevention and response services
Published in August 2020, this report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) states that violence against children may increase as the daily lives of people and communities are disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. It discusses the prevention and control measures adopted by countries to contain the disease, as well as the disruptions in reporting and referral mechanisms of child protection services during this time.
The report cites data from UNICEF’s Socioeconomic Impact Survey of
COVID-19 Response of 2020. The information collected in
the survey pertains to disruptions in service provision as a result of the pandemic,
as reported in 136 countries.
The report states that national lockdowns and
containment actions taken by governments have resulted in disruptions of child
protection services by either forcing closures or requiring significant
adjustments to the way services are delivered. It also suggests the ways in
which governments could prioritise maintaining or adapting critical prevention
and response services to protect children from violence in times of crisis.
This 20-page report has four parts: Violence
against children in the time of Covid-19 (part 1); What has happened to
violence prevention and response services? (part 2); Rising to the challenge:
Actions taken to minimize risks and mitigate service disruptions (part 3); and Redefining
essential services during crises (part 4).
A number of UNICEF studies from recent years indicate that school closures as well as the interruption of child protection services – as seen during the Covid-19 pandemic – lead to reduced reports of child maltreatment. The report states that studies of past epidemics and crises have documented devastating impacts on the reporting of violence against children and related childcare services.
The UNICEF report cites Child Abuse in Natural Disasters and Conflicts: A Systematic Review, an article published in the Trauma, Violence & Abuse in 2019, that studied child abuse during natural disasters and conflicts. While the level of violence against children increased after the onset of such emergencies, the article states, reporting of such violence was lower as a result of disruptions in services, infrastructure and other mechanisms.
According to 2020 UNICEF survey data, South Asia has the highest proportion of countries reporting a disruption in services related to violence against children, followed by Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
The services related to violence against children (VAC) under consideration of the survey included child protection helpline services or call centres, access to child welfare authorities, violence prevention programmes, case management services to respond to violence against children, and household visits to children and women at risk of abuse. Among the most commonly disrupted services were case management or referral pathways to prevent and respond to violence against children, and home visits for children and women at risk of abuse.
Movement restrictions and social distancing measures adversely interrupt the in-person visits by child welfare and social workers, the report states. The effects on delivery of services in response to violence against children are likely exacerbated in contexts where child protection services were already weak prior to the pandemic.
The document recommends that governments designate social service workers as essential, strengthen child helplines, and make positive parenting resources available in order to prioritise the resilience of child protection services in times of crisis.
Governments should provide additional resources to child helplines for effective operation in times of crises, as well as enhance training on child-friendly counselling and adapting referral mechanisms.
Focus and Factoids by Aditi Gupta.
United Nations Children’s Fund
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)