Violence against children and Covid 19
During times of crisis, such as natural disasters, wars, and epidemics, the risk of gender-based-violence and violence against children escalates. The current crisis also makes it more difficult for victims to seek help. As medical facilities around the world scramble to respond to the coronavirus, health systems are becoming overloaded, making it more difficult for victims to get access to medical care or therapists.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a perfect storm for child abuse to amp up. Even without the present stressors, child sexual abuse continues [with] studies confirming one in four girls and one in six boys under the age of 18 are sexually abused in Canada.” Said Dr. Wanda Polzin a clinical director in Canada. “With families being in states of toxic stress more than ever, COVID-19 is tipping the scales toward increased vulnerable situations where children are more likely to be left unsupervised with other children or unsafe adults as a result of school closures. Further, increased financial stressors due to parents/caregivers now being out of work, [along with] anxiety, create increased domestic violence and substance misuse with nowhere [for kids] to safely call home.”
Independent UN human rights experts have called on states to boost child protection measures to help safeguard the welfare of millions of children who may be more exposed to violence, sale, trafficking, sexual abuse and exploitation during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, and Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Representative on violence against children, issued the appeal, emphasizing that parents, caregivers, service providers, and law enforcement officials all need extra support to minimize the heightened risks to youngsters.
“Globally, confinement measures and the disrupted provision of already limited child protection services exacerbate the vulnerability of children living in psychiatric and social care institutions, orphanages, refugee camps, immigration detention centers, and other closed facilities”, said Ms. de Boer-Buquicchio. At a time of lockdowns and home isolation, children are at greater risk of experiencing violence, exploitation, and challenges to their mental health. “This is especially true of those who are already in vulnerable situations”, Ms. M’jid added.
The experts urged governments to ensure that adequately staffed and equipped child protection services and law enforcement are available and accessible to all children. This includes toll-free 24-hours hotlines, free texting services, remote psychological and social services and mobile shelters for minors. Where such vital services are missing, some victims are bound to endure abuse by their own caregivers, the experts warned.
In addition, travel restrictions and the increase in online users will likely lead to a significant spike in sexual grooming online by paedophiles and predators, live streaming of child sexual abuse and the production and distribution of child sexual abuse material – making robust collaboration between private industry and law enforcement essential.
Police forces must be trained to monitor encrypted pedophile networks and lawfully access retained computer IP addresses to secure evidence. The appeal has been endorsed by Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women; and Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. They work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.