The risk of children around the world being abused and trafficked is growing as more countries, particularly poor ones, impose lockdown measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Limits on movement mean children are more at risk of abuse at home and online, according to separate reports from United Nations and European agencies.
With kids suddenly spending a lot more time online, “sexual offenders are taking advantage of this situation and more children are likely to be groomed online and become victims of sexual extorsion,” the Council of Europe’s George Nikolaidis and Christel De Craim said in a statement.
As governments focus on curing those infected with coronavirus and maintaining law and order, much less attention is paid to the mental and physical well-being of kids. With the number of medical cases appearing to be peaking in places like Italy and Spain, psychologists and other child-care experts want more focus paid on vulnerable children.
Governments should ensure that 24-hour toll-free hotlines, texting services and mobile shelters are fully staffed to ensure kids can report abuse or flee an abusive home, U.N. rapporteur Maud de Boer-Buquicchio said in a report. The risks are even greater in psychiatric and social care institutions, orphanages, refugee camps, immigration detention centers and other closed facilities, where abuse is likely to go undetected, she said.
“As community ties are weakened due to the crisis, we must all remain alert and report any suspected child abuse,” said De Boer-Buquicchio. “We can make sure that children’s dignity and rights are protected and that no child bears the collateral consequences of this unprecedented pandemic.”