A teacher explains the proper way of washing hands to her pupils at a school in Pakistan. The focus on personal hygiene could not get any more serious than it is right now given the strange times we are facing following the global spread of the coronavirus. As we write this, there are more than 341,337confirmed cases of people that have contracted the virus across the planet, while already the number of deaths has surpassed 14,700.The world seems to have come to a halt and governments across the globe are implementing harsh measures to keep the virus from spreading further. This includes a mass closure of schools, colleges and universities, a move that has affected more than 500 million students worldwide.

In a new report, the UNICEF says hundreds of millions of children around the world will likely face increasing threats to their safety and wellbeing – including mistreatment, gender-based violence, exploitation, social exclusion and separation from caregivers due to actions taken by governments to curb the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a matter of months, COVID-19 has upended the lives of children and families across the globe. School closures and movement restrictions are disrupting children’s routines and support systems. They are also adding new stressors on caregivers who may have to forgo work.

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.“In many ways, the disease is now reaching children and families far beyond those it directly infects,” said Cornelius Williams, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection. “Schools are closing. Parents are struggling to care for their children and make ends meet. The protection risks for children are mounting. This guidance provides governments and protection authorities with an outline of practical measures that can be taken to keep children safe during these uncertain times.”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.

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