"We need data from children's perspectives in the COVID-pandemic"

On 13 May, nearly 1,000 individuals joined a webinar on tackling violence against children amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Maria Schillaci, the Program Director of the Barnafrid National Centre On Violence Against Children in Sweden, shed light on the need for assessments and data from children’s perspectives, especially those with special vulnerabilities.

Photos of participants at the global End violence against children-webinar.

The webinar, which was hosted by the End Violence Partnership and the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children (SRSG VAC), brought together partners from over 130 countries around the world. At the event, participants were given a chance to hear about and discuss local, national and global perspectives of and responses to the COVID-19 crisis.

 
Throughout the webinar, global experts touched on:

  • The critical need for a unified global response to protect children
  • Good practices at the country level, and the importance of contextualising programmes to each country and community
  • Utilising the Leaders’ Statement to catalyse action through targeted policy calls
  • Including children as key actors in the prevention and response to violence
  • Creating and sustaining long-term strategies for COVID-19 and beyond

"Abuse can only increase in context of COVID-19"

Nearly every panellist spoke about how the pandemic – which began as a health crisis – is now evolving into a broader crisis of child rights and child protection.

- This pandemic has swept into unchartered territory, said Cornelius Williams, the Associate Director of Child Protection at UNICEF. 
- We know that prior to the pandemic, three out of four young children were regularly subjected to violent abuse and discipline. We know that one in four were living with a mother who was physically abused by her partner. And we are aware, as it has been said, the frequency and intensity of such abuse can only increase in the context of COVID-19’s new stressors.

On top of that, speakers pointed out that isolation and protection services are forcing many previously-existing services to pause operations – even when they are needed most.
- We know that many child protection services have been disrupted,” said Dr Najat Maalla M’jid, the SRSG VAC. Child Helpline International, for example, is reporting that many of their members are struggling to keep up with increased demand while observing social distancing and other measures to keep their workers safe. Other civil society organisations have had to suspend services, even to the most vulnerable children – including those in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons, and children living on the streets.
To mitigate these challenges, governments, civil society organisations, UN agencies and other partners have implemented varied response strategies throughout the world, many of which are drawing on innovative methods to reach children despite the current COVID-19 isolation measures.

Support for children and families

Williams and Bill Forbes, the Global Sector Lead for Child Protection and Participation for World Vision International, spoke about programmes their organisations have implemented to support children and their families during this unprecedented time.
In Jamaica, for example, UNICEF is adopting a national mentorships programme to provide families with positive parenting resources and support services. In the Dominican Republic, the agency is working with national authorities to ensure the continuity of standard operating procedures to mitigate online sexual exploitation as digital use skyrockets. And in Bangladesh, they are supporting the child protection hotline to ensure national authorities can accommodate the surge in calls and strengthen the referral pathway for children in need.
Similarly, Forbes shared World Vision’s experience responding to challenges on the ground in several countries. In Mongolia, for example, World Vision is partnering with local multi-disciplinary committees to provide case management for difficult child protection cases, and has worked with the government to launch a new online chatbox as part of the national child helpline to identify and respond to protection issues. This resource is equipped with psychologists 24 hours a day, and is providing support to families and children throughout the crisis. In Brazil, the organisation has delivered “tenderness boxes” to promote positive parenting and empathy in the home during this difficult time. And, among other programmes, World Vision has been in touch with 80,000 churches and mosques to help them identify and monitor child protection issues.
Even so, challenges within this new and rapidly evolving environment are both common and pervasive. While staff are attempting to support families and children through COVID-19, for example, they are also facing the virus and related isolated measures themselves – inducing extreme stress among those on the frontline.

Forcing to rethink

Another issue that was repeatedly raised by webinar participants is that the typical modalities for engaging with families have been interrupted. This is forcing organisations and agencies to rethink traditional ways of communication and attempt to reach families in entirely new ways.
- Our staff are trying to identify what the existing points of contact are with families, Forbes said. Right now, we’re working on using social media, text messaging, radio, television, and even loudspeakers and bullhorns to reach families. One result of this challenge is that we are now facing a lack of insight from children themselves.

Need for data

Maria Schillaci, the Program Director of the Barnafrid National Centre On Violence Against Children in Sweden, shed light on the need for assessments and data from children’s perspectives, especially those with special vulnerabilities.

- We have a problem: the lack of up-to-date, valid statistics that makes it difficult to say whether violence against children has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic in Sweden. In the future, it will be an important and necessary task to study how children’s vulnerability – and the problem of violence – differs between different countries with alternative solutions, Maria Schillaci said.

She also mentioned that Sweden as a country has chosen a different path during Covid19. The preschools and schools up to age 16 never closed. 

To read the entire speech, you can find a pdf-document here:
Barnafrid Speech End Violence

"No blanket solution"

On top of these issues, the COVID-19 crisis is occurring among a multitude of others – including natural disasters, forced migration, poverty and war. This makes both the implementation and adaptation of proposed projects, at times, nearly impossible.
- There is no blanket solution, said Joan Nyanyuki, the Executive Director of the African Child Policy Forum. Countries must be able to adapt, and to adapt quickly to come up with mitigation policies that factor in pre-existing situations of children and their vulnerabilities to violence.

Due to these challenges, gaps and stresses on the child protection system, all speakers pushed for increased partnership among sectors and organisations of all sizes.
- No single type of actor can deliver what’s needed for children’s protection right now, said Forbes. Various actors are needed, and those actors play different roles based on context.
Dr M’jid also called for collaboration and coordination among United Nations agencies, governments, donors, the private sector, civil society organisations, and leaders in every sector to ensure a unified response to violence amidst the pandemic.

Including the children

Hugely important, Dr M’jid said, is ensuring children play an integral role in this effort, and that they are seen both as actors to prevent violence and essential pieces of the solution. Panellists spoke about the success of such interventions in Sweden, where the Minister for Children’s Rights had a special press conference for children.

- At these meetings, children met with the minister and experts to ask questions to them directly, said Anna Norlander, Co-ordinator of the Global Partnership within Sweden’s Ministry of Employment. We found that the children had a lot of questions…and authorities, ministries, municipalities and cities are working together to try to meet the need for accurate, updated information on children and COVID-19.
All that being said, we must continue working together and supporting one another to prevent violence against children during the COVID-19 outbreak. End Violence looks forward to continuing these webinars for our partners around the world and would love to hear about what your organisation is doing to protect children during these challenging times.

Links

Here is an external link to the webinar: 
Tackling violence against children amidst the COVID-19

Here is an external link to the global cooperation: 
End violence against children 

 

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