Pathfinding Countries adapt to COVID-19 to keep children safe


Children in Honduras.

COVID-19 has changed nearly everything – including our response to violence against children. Across the world, Pathfinding Countries are adapting existing initiatives and have launched new ones, doing everything in their power to protect children in increasingly difficult environments.

Cambodia: Pathfinding since 2019

In Cambodia, the Ministry of Social Welfare launched Primero, a case management system to help social welfare workers reach families amidst the pandemic. Primero is an open-source software system, which links social welfare workers to families, manages protection-related data, and facilitates smoother case management tracking and monitoring. By providing a secure, digital platform to deliver case management services, Primero has helped the Ministry transition to remote service management while offices were closed during COVID-19. In the past, Primero was used to find and track children who needed support in humanitarian crises. Once families went into lockdown, however, the Ministry adapted the platform to ensure no Cambodian child fell through the cracks.

Cambodia has also adapted face-to-face parenting interventions, which, prior to COVID-19 has worked to build positive caregiving behaviours and reduce domestic violence. As families began to lose their jobs, fall ill, and enter isolation, this work became even more important. A local non-governmental organisation, Improving Cambodian Society (ICS) swiftly adapted their services to work around a COVID-19 context. They conducted community awareness-raising campaigns with loudspeakers and disseminated key messages about positive parenting and COVID-19 prevention. In communities that were at high-risk of violence, ICS continued its positive parenting workshops by implementing social distancing measures and mandating personal protective equipment.

Honduras: Pathfinding since 2019

In Honduras, violence prevention has traditionally centred around community violence and reducing gang violence. After the onset of COVID-19, the government has shifted its approach to better protect women and girls, as the pandemic has led to increased cases of domestic violence – and murder – of Honduran females. As the economy has crippled, more girls are being recruited into gangs, and many mothers who try to stop the practice are killed.

Honduras has responded to this situation by physically moving women and their children to shelters, and safe spaces that must be provided under extraordinary circumstances. In addition, the government has shifted the work of “violence interrupters,” individuals who typically work to mediate dangerous gang activities, to be more COVID-19 responsive. While these individuals have continued their critical work, they have also increased their focus on the safety of women and girls. And, they have integrated COVID-19 education and awareness-raising into their everyday responsibilities, handing out masks and sharing information on preventing virus spread.

The Philippines: Pathfinding since 2016

As one of our first Pathfinding Countries, the Philippines has an extensive network of Women and Child Protection Units in nearly all its provinces — an especially impressive feat in a country of over 108 million. These units provide a delivery system for multi-disciplinary services that has a nationwide reach, and a response system for all forms of abuse, including victims of trafficking and online child sexual abuse. Once the pandemic began, these units remained open to support those in need. Even so, isolation measures made it difficult for many to access such services.

To bring those services deeper into the community, the Philippines General Hospital Child Protection Unit signed a memorandum of understanding with seven large cities in the Philippines. The hospital worked to build the capacity of 25 ‘barangays,’ the smallest administrative division in the Philippines – and as a result, each barangay will soon have Child Protection Unit extensions.

With this change, those experiencing violence will still report to the Child Protection Unit for immediate service provision after a case of abuse, but the barangay will offer follow-up medical advice, mental health care, case management for domestic violence in families, and legal testimony for children.

Tanzania: Pathfinding since 2016

In some parts of the world, COVID-19 has caused internet usage to rise to 50 per cent. With more children – and more adults – online than ever before, children are at an increased risk of online violence, including sexual exploitation and abuse. To combat this issue, the Government of Tanzania developed a WhatsApp bot – Malezi – to reach young people with information on sexual exploitation and abuse and ways to decrease their risks.

Malezi is also targeting young people with information on protecting themselves from COVID-19, all of which is sourced from the World Health Organization and the Tanzanian Ministry of Health. The bot can both engage children and provide data on relevant trends, displaying the latter on an accessible visual dashboard.