Children at increased risk of abuse and violence, as COVID-19 takes its toll

UNICEF South Africa and partners raise the alarm ahead of the ‘African Child Trauma Conference’ that aims to develop an emergency action plan in response to this increase.

06 October 2020

PRETORIA, 06 October – Children in South Africa face an increased risk of abuse and violence, as a result of the broad ranging impact of COVID-19, according to UNICEF South Africa and child protection partners. The alarm has been raised after Childline South Africa reported a more than 36.8% increase in calls for help during August 2020, compared with the same month in 2019. This data coincides with reports from healthcare facilities of a consistent and concerning number of severe injuries among child abuse referrals.

“Violence against children is unacceptable at any time,” said UNICEF South Africa Representative, Christine Muhigana. “It’s extremely concerning that at a time of national and global crisis, children are facing violence and abuse at such horrific levels,” added Muhigana.

The COVID-19 lockdown measures in South Africa helped to slow the spread of the virus but have also, in some cases, further isolated vulnerable children at home and disrupted prevention and response services. UNICEF’s recent global report ‘Protecting Children from Violence in the Time of COVID-19’, noted how children behind closed doors and away from school face increased risks of abuse and violence. The economic fallout from the virus has also placed additional socio-economic strains on already struggling families. “Parents, families and individuals are understandably facing extreme stress due to the COVID-19 impact, but children should not bear the brunt of this,” said Muhigana.

In response to children’s own high levels of anxiety, as well as the physical and emotional abuse during COVID-19, a high-level panel of child protection and child rights experts are convening a virtual sitting of the ‘African Child Trauma Conference’ on 07 and 08 October 2020.

The conference – hosted by Jelly Beanz, UNICEF South Africa, ECPAT international and the Teddy Bear Foundation – includes participation from other UN agencies, the Government of South Africa, the private sector and academia, and aims to find innovative and pioneering solutions and tools to promote child protection within the context of the pandemic.

This year’s meeting is expected to culminate in the development of an ‘Emergency Action Plan’ in response to the devastating impact of violence and abuse on children. This includes specific action points for partners in government, UN agencies, the private sector and civil society at global, regional and national levels and aims to accelerate actions for children who are at risk of being left behind, including: children with disabilities; children on the move; children affected by violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation; and children facing mental health challenges.

The emergency measures aim to promote a nurturing environment for children and to empower them as they move into adulthood and a working life. This includes through increased investments in prevention and early intervention services, mental health, youth safety, youth empowerment and employment.

UNICEF calls on government, the private sector and all partners to put into action the emergency measures to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of children and young people, and ultimately to build a more resilient and productive society.

Media contacts

Sudeshan Reddy
Communication Specialist
UNICEF South Africa
Tel: +27 82 561 3970


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in over 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special efforts on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children everywhere.

Working with a range of partners, UNICEF has had a presence in South Africa since the end of apartheid and continues to work towards bettering the lives of all children in the country.

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Note to Editors

The 2020 African Child Trauma Conference will be hosted online and registration can be completed at the website: The Conference is being organized by UNICEF South Africa, Jelly Beanz, ECPAT International, and the Teddy Bear Foundation. UNICEF’s global report ‘Protecting Children from Violence in the Time of COVID-19’ is available here.