COVID-19 causes disruptions to child protection services in more than 100 countries, UNICEF survey finds

21 August 2020

NEW YORK/ALBANIA 18 August 2020 – Violence prevention and response services have been severely disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving children at increased risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, according to a global survey by UNICEF.  Of 136 countries that responded to UNICEF’s Socio-economic Impact Survey of COVID-19 Response, 104 countries reported a disruption in services related to violence against children. Around two thirds of countries reported that at least one service had been severely affected, including South Africa, Malaysia, Nigeria and Pakistan. South Asia, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia have the highest proportion of countries reporting disruptions in the availability of services.

In Albania restrictions and key challenges for reaching children and women impacted by violence include: Very limited specialized emergency response training for the front line child protection workers;  Shortage of mobile protection units; Limited personal protective equipment and items; Limited human resources to serve the increased counselling and psychosocial needs of children and women;  Absence of a dedicated multifunctional centers specializing on child sexual abuse response and rehabilitation; Full or significant closure of community based protection and prevention services; Diminished case management; Significantly increased risks of online abuse.

In Albania  - strengthening hotlines, supporting frontline workers to respond safely and effectively to severe cases of violence, and ensuring remote psychosocial support, have been critical features of UNICEF’s support, to Government and communities, which provided direct support to over 15,000 children, since the start of the COVID-19 crises.

“We are just beginning to fully understand the damage done to children because of their increased exposure to violence during pandemic lockdowns,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Ongoing school closures and movement restrictions have left some children stuck at home with increasingly stressed abusers. The subsequent impact on protection services and social workers means children have nowhere to turn for help.” 

 As countries adopted prevention and control measures to contain COVID-19, many vital violence prevention and response services were suspended or interrupted as a result. More than half of the countries reported disruptions in case management, referral services and home visits by child welfare and social workers to children and women at risk of abuse. Violence prevention programmes, children’s access to child welfare authorities, and national helpline services have also been affected in many countries, according to the responses. 

 Even before the pandemic, children’s exposure to violence was widespread, with about half of the world’s children experiencing corporal punishment at home; roughly 3 in 4 children aged 2 to 4 years regularly subjected to forms of violent discipline; and 1 in 3 adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 having been victimised by their intimate partner at some point in their lives. Violence against children and women has increased in many countries across the world during the COVID-19 crises. According to UNICEF, countries across Eastern Europe and Central Asia have experienced significant restrictions in child protection prevention and response services in the context of COVID-19; the second highest compared with other regions of the world.  

“Child protection systems were already struggling to prevent and respond to violence against children, and now a global pandemic has both made the problem worse and tied the hands of those meant to protect those at risk,” added Fore. “Too many children rely on child protection systems to keep them safe. In times of crisis, governments must have immediate and long-term measures that protect children from violence, including designating and investing in social service workers as essential, strengthening child helplines and making positive parenting resources available.” 

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