On 13 May, nearly 1,000 individuals joined a webinar on tackling violence against children amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 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
The hidden crisis of COVID-19: Violence against children
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.
Solutions, challenges and learnings from across the globe
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
The importance of collaboration
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.
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.
To share your organisation’s work or input, please email Elissa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch the webinar in full through the video below.
Resources shared during the webinar
Protection of Children during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Children and Alternative Care (English) This resource is also available in Bulgarian, Farsi, Indonesian, Romanian and Spanish. Translations into Arabic, French, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Swahili are in production and once published, all will be made available online here.
1. What are the best ways to end violence against children?
Launched alongside the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children in 2016, INSPIRE is a set of seven evidence-based strategies for countries and communities working to eliminate violence against children. Created by ten agencies with a long history of child protection work, INSPIRE serves as a technical package and guidebook for implementing effective, comprehensive programming to combat violence. We suggest checking out INSPIRE materials for the most evidence-based and effective programmes to prevent violence in the field.
There are a number of resources that can give you more guidance on INSPIRE strategy implementation, such as:
Practice healthy parenting to get through the crisis. To help parents interact constructively with their children during this time of confinement, these 12 one-page tips for parents cover planning one-on-one time, staying positive, creating a daily routine, avoiding bad behaviour, managing stress, and talking about COVID-19.
Know who to call for help. Child Helpline International is a worldwide network of 173 helplines across the world. On their website, you can search for the helpline in your country and call to raise child protection issues with national authorities. More helpline numbers can be found on this page, created by the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children.
Keep your children safe online by accessing tips and resources from the tech companies themselves. End Violence has teamed up with our partners in the technology industry, including Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Roblox and Snapchat, to develop a new campaign to help keep children safe in this rapidly changing environment. Learn more here.
Access more resources on End Violence’s COVID-19 page.
2. How can we protect children from becoming stressed in these challenging circumstances and reduce mental health issues like anxiety, depression and grief?
To support children’s mental health during this difficult time, check out the below resources from our partners:
Try out these six relaxation activities to do with children, which were developed by Save the Children.
Help children better understand the outbreak by using this brief, created by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. It lays out how to help children of various ages, including pre-school aged children, ages 6-12, and ages 13-18. 3.
Access more resources on End Violence’s COVID-19 page.
3. I’d like to hear more on how we can advocate to our government to invest more on children because sometimes the budget allocated to children's issues is insufficient and most of our government is now looking toward economic impact rather than children's investment.
Though a difficult question to answer, one way to advocate to a government is by building on the Leaders’ Statement. To increase awareness of children’s issues and push for increased budgeting to protect children, you can bring together a coalition of national leaders to develop their own contextualized national leaders’ statement – one with tailored policy calls to inform advocacy, public messaging and external engagement. By speaking with one unified, powerful voice, government bodies may be more inclined to listenrIn addition, organisations can look at budget tracking, and make the case that violence against children impacts the long-term health of the economy, estimated to be $7 trillion a year globally. And, you can look at working closely with the education and health sectors to ensure ending violence against children is built into broader COVID-19 responses.
4. What role can religious leaders play in preventing and responding to violence against children during COVID-19?
Across the world, religious leaders from all faith groups are doing their part to prevent and end violence against children. One example of this is through a campaign led by End Violence partner Arigatou International, Faith in Action for Children. The campaign has created a support booklet for faith leaders to use in their communities, which includes information on raising awareness about violence against children, supporting children through social distancing, and creating safe, healthy environments for children to participate in spiritual activities. Read more about the campaign and how you can get involved.
5. Did UNICEF develop guidance for childcare institutions and COVID-19? I have heard about guidelines in Asia but not sure it is accessible.
Yes! Access the technical note, Protection of Children during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Children and Alternative Care, by clicking here.
6. The current situation has changed how international development actors deliver programmes. We are now using more web-based platforms and social media to connect with children and young people in contexts that have no legislation or policies to regulate such use safely. What safeguards are in place to prevent sexual grooming, abuse and exploitation?
The Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, UNICEF, ITU, UNESCO, UNODC, WePROTECT Global Alliance, WHO, and World Childhood Foundation USA released a technical note aimed to identify concrete areas of action for ICT industries, educators and parents to be alert, take measures to mitigate potential risks, and ensure children’s online experiences are safe and positive during COVID-19. You can access that technical note here.
7. Learning platforms in Uganda are still inaccessible to almost 60% of children. Are there any plans by UNICEF or other actors on helping developing countries in this aspect, keeping in mind that many children are dependent on face-to-face services?
UNICEF is supporting the Government of Uganda by introducing a free digital learning platform called KOLIBRI. For children who do not have digital connectivity, we are exploring the use of radio-based learning materials. UNICEF is also designing, in partnership with the government, an accelerated programme for when schools reopen.
8: Is there a way organisations can provide online trainings, capacity-building programs for all child protection specialists in schools to equip us with necessary skills for dealing with the possible rise of mental health issues in children in this time of pandemic?
Supporting the mental and psychological health of returning students needs to be a priority of the education sector during the first weeks of school reopening. School counsellors and teachers also need to be prepared to provide these support systems.
To read more about mental health implications and considerations, view the below resources from our partners:
The WHO has released a briefing on how to protect our mental health during this challenging time, particularly the mental health of those most at-risk: health workers, the elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions.
The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) has released a document summarizing key mental health and psychological support considerations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including recommended activities for helping older adults, children and others cope with stress.
IASC has published a briefing note on addressing mental health and psychosocial aspects of COVID-19.
Read a guide released by UNICEF, the WHO and the IRFC on reducing stigma related to COVID-19.
9. Are any of the panellists engaging children in prison in any of those countries, and what tools/resources do you suggest protecting those in extreme vulnerability to violence and torture?
The bulk of World Vision's work on juvenile justice has been focused on advocacy and support of children who are in conflict with the law. One very helpful resource for addressing this issue is linked here.
10. How do we enhance protections for children with disabilities during this time? How can we ensure children with disabilities are not doubly impacted by COVID-19 – and how can we ensure they are not left further behind?
The International Disability Alliance has a multitude of resources available on their website. Check out their webpage, COVID-19 and the Disability Movement, which contains resources specific to the virus and related isolation measures. On their website, you can also hear from people with disabilities themselves, shedding light on the real challenges individuals are facing during this time. Another great place to start is through the 11 Things You Should Know about COVID-19 and Persons with Disabilities, which was published by Save the Children in March 2020.
In addition, we encourage you to look over:
- Read this Policy Brief: A Disability-Inclusive Response to COVID-19, a United Nations piece
- Action steps to protect children and adults with disabilities during COVID-19 pandemic, a publication produced by Disability Rights International
- Inclusion International’s website for a list of resources and processes from their members, who work to support individuals with disabilities throughout the globe.
- The International Disability Alliance (IDA), an alliance of 14 global and regional organizations of persons with disabilities, has published key recommendations for a disability-inclusive COVID-19 response.
11. What role has technology played in fighting violence against children during COVID-19 pandemic? What technological tools can you share with us that can be used to tackle different issues regarding child abuse?
End Violence has teamed up with our partners in the technology industry, including Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Roblox and Snapchat, to develop a new campaign to help keep children safe in this rapidly changing environment. Through the campaign materials, you can find specific ways to prevent online violence across various digital platforms. Learn more here.
12. Are there any examples or recommendations concerning gender-responsive approaches to address the increased violence that girls, in particular, are facing at home (concerning GBV, sexual violence, etc.)
A number of resources focused on the intersection of gender and COVID-19 have been published by our partners, including:
- Two new reports from Plan International, which highlight how COVID-19 is affecting women and girls throughout the world. Living Under Lockdown is an examination of four previous crisis, resulting in a clearer picture of the insecurity and vulnerability girls are facing now. COVID-19: The Impact on Girls dives deeper into the crisis and its intersection with gender across multiple sectors.
- Read more about the challenges girls and women are facing (and recommended steps for governments to mitigate these challenges) in this piece by Human Rights Watch.
- Read this practical guide for preventing, addressing, and documenting domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, From Global Coordination to Local Strategies: A Practical Approach to Prevent, Address and Document Domestic Violence under COVID-19.
- Safety advice for frontline workers supporting women during the COVID-19 outbreak. This guidance, which was developed by the Australian eSafety Commissioner, is based on the organisation's eSafety Women content. It is designed for an international audience and contextualised for the circumstances
- Identify and mitigate gender-based violence risks within the COVID-19 response, a brief produced by the Gender-Based Violence Area of Responsibility (GBV AoR). This document is intended to support non-GBV specialist humanitarian actors to identify COVID-19, GBV-specific risks in their sectors, and take actions to mitigate those risks.
- Learn about the emerging gender impacts of the virus by reading this article, published by the Lancet, on the ways COVID-19 is affecting men and women differently from a socio-economic standpoint.
Read more on this topic by visiting End Violence’s COVID-19 page.
13. How can we stop violence against children in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons?
Children living in camps are uniquely vulnerable to both violence and the spread of COVID-19. Save the Children has developed operational guidance to support migrant and refugee children amidst the pandemic, which cuts across multiple sectors including child protection. You can also view a collection of tools and resources from the Child Protection Resource Menu for COVID-19, all of which has been collated to help responders protect children while dealing with the outbreak.
In addition, view the below resources from our partners to find out more information and support displaced children amidst the pandemic:
- Guidance document from IASC on scaling-up readiness and response operations to the COVID-19 outbreak in refugee and internally displaced person camps
- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) website devoted to COVID-19
- International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) thematic website on IOM readiness and response to COVID-19
- International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Migration Data Portal site dedicated COVID-19
- International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) dashboard on worldwide migration
- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) dashboard on worldwide displacement
- International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Displacement Tracking Matrix Dashboard
- Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) efforts dedicated to COVID-19.
14. How are statistics on violence against children being gathered during the COVID-19 pandemic? In my country, the National System for Child Protection is only working partially, and often are not catching all situations of violence. Are there strategies to mitigate these situations?
In Sweden, daycare, schools, health care for children and social welfare services have been in full operation so far. Statistics are gathered during COVID-19 as usual. Statistics Sweden publishes general statistics and The National Board of Health and Welfare administers several national registers in the areas of health care and social services. Besides, The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention is responsible for the official criminal statistics and The Swedish Police collect their statistics. Helplines, chats and women's shelters also gather statistics, but that is not usually reported in public regularly except for Kvinnofridslinjen at The National Centre for Knowledge on Men's Violence against Women.
Several research initiatives are ongoing and will hopefully provide more data on children´s exposure to violence during COVID-19. The Swedish Ethical Review Authority has a fast track for COVID-19 related applications and governmental extra research funding is provided. COVID-19 has pinpointed an urgent need for an easy to access and accurate dataset of key indicators that relate to violence against children. This set of indicators should collect data from different sources (eg helplines, health care, social services, police, 112-alarm calls, women´s shelters, infanticides/killings) and provide a qualified analysis of the aggregated data. Data should preferably be available at least monthly to allow effective monitoring of the situation and to provide facts for decision making. The dataset could be used later for research purposes.
Apart from official statistics, initiatives to directly gather information from children and those working with children should be encouraged. The pandemic also opens up for innovations to speed up science and to enhance access to scientific publications.
15. How can we start documenting good practices at the global level? How can the Call for Action be monitored? A similar call has been done by the ACERWC for Africa, but the challenge is on the monitoring of the effective implementation of these calls as Child Protection are not essentials matters in some countries?
Thank you for this great initiative that we fully support. The End Violence platform is already documenting good practices and in Sweden, for example, the National Centre on Violence Against Children Barnafrid and the Children's Welfare Foundation Sweden has digital knowledge banks that provide evidence-based knowledge. Also, The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions has during COVID-19 gathered comprehensive information, advice and tips on mental health to help professionals. Information is provided in different languages.
Implementation of good practices and calls for action should be carefully planned in the country context. Successful actions require long-term commitment, financial resources and national knowledge dissemination infrastructure that can be used strategically. In Sweden, several governmental agencies have assignments related to the implementation of the National Strategy to prevent and combat men's violence against women, which includes a strategy to stop violence against children. For example, The National Board of Health and Welfare works together with Barnafrid, The National Centre for Knowledge on Men's Violence against Women, The Swedish Gender Equality Agency and county governments to increase competence and capacity among professional working in health care and social services to implement evidence-based practice.
Yet another example of ongoing national governmental assignments is the digitalization of the competence program in child psychiatric trauma care that Barnafrid has worked with since 2018. Also, nationwide networks, like those organized by Barnafrid, can be used for knowledge dissemination, implementation of up-to-date good practices and monitoring needs among professionals. Regular intersectoral networks for different governmental agencies, NGOs and NPOs can also be used for implementation and long-term strategic development.
16. How is Sweden measuring unreported violence against children? Can this be adapted to other countries?
Measuring of unreported violence is an urgent matter and new innovative solutions are needed. We should also put more effort to collect data on violence experiences in children below school age and those with disabilities. In Sweden, The National Public Health Agency conducts annually a questionnaire-based survey on health and wellbeing among children in school age. This study includes some questions about violence, mainly bullying.
Statistics from helplines is another source of information that can we used to estimate needs for support. Sweden continuously monitors the existence of violence as well as behaviours and attitudes among children and young people as well as parents. National surveys of corporal punishment and other violations of children have therefore been conducted in Sweden on a regular basis, all in order to adapt preventative measures against violence against children in Sweden.
The Children’s Welfare Foundation Sweden has received funding from the Swedish Government to conduct these surveys. The latest nationwide survey on violence against children in Sweden was published in 2016.