Children must be protected against a rise in violence and new forms of sexual exploitation and abuse during COVID-19 lockdowns as this will have lifelong implications for millions worldwide, a UN human rights expert warned.
“The damage to millions of children will be devastating if we are slow in mobilising child protection services for early detection and prevention,” Mama Fatima Singhateh, the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, said.
Singhateh said between 42 million and 66 million children worldwide are already in a precarious socio-economic situation, even before the hidden impact of the COVID-19 crisis emerges.
“A comprehensive mapping and rapid and responsive child protection measures are paramount to assess the magnitude of this crisis on the most vulnerable children, including those who are refugees, displaced, homeless, migrants, minorities, slum-dwellers, living with disabilities, living on the streets, living in refugee settlements, and in institutions,” she said.
The independent expert said COVID-19 travel restrictions had spawned new forms of child sexual exploitation and abuse, including attempts to establish a “delivery” or “drive-thru” service for sexual exploitation of children.
“There has also been a spike in the number of attempts to access illegal websites featuring child sexual abuse material. Producing and accessing child sexual abuse material and live-stream child sexual abuse online has now become an easy alternative to groom and lure children into sexual activities and to trade images in online communities,” Singhateh said.
The COVID-19 pandemic will leave those already left behind trailing even further behind. “Our commitment made under Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to leave no one behind is now more relevant than ever.”
Social benefits and social protection nets should prioritise low-income and vulnerable communities and families to alleviate COVID-19 collateral damage on children, the expert said.
Victim and survivor outreach, non-discriminatory child protection systems, public education and awareness campaigns, expanded helpline services and safe accommodation were among essential measures to mitigate harm.
“The UN Secretary-General’s Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on children should serve as a roadmap to shape our response to the crisis. In doing so, children should be given the space for meaningful and inclusive participation so that their voices would be heard and amplified in decisions affecting their lives,” Singhateh concluded. (Source: OHCHR)