The coronavirus pandemic has given more opportunity for family time, but unfortunately, this may also be leading to another crisis: child abuse and child deaths.
Between Tuesday, March 17 and Saturday, March 21, 2020, Cook Children’s Medical Center in the US reported seven cases of severe child abuse from children less than 4 years old. Out of these seven cases, two children died from their injuries. Recording seven cases (of which two died) in less than a week is very disturbing for a hospital who records only an average of six deaths a year from child abuse.
More so, in London, the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children reported 10 cases of abusive head trauma in children between the ages of two weeks and 13 months. These cases were recorded between March 23 and April 23 which suggested a 15-fold increase in the number of recorded child abuse cases compared to 2019, the hospital reported.
There is not enough evidence to blame the present pandemic for the increase in child abuse cases recorded in some hospitals. In fact, while a few hospitals record a huge increase in child abuse cases, some hotlines, on the other hand, receive a decline in calls regarding child abuse. For instance, in March, a Child Protective Services agency in California reported a drop in calls from an average of 4,000 calls in a week to less than 3,000 calls in a week.
Disruptions in both hospitals and hotlines as regards child abuse have links to the pandemic. Child welfare workers admit that during holidays when children are out of school, there is usually a drop in the report of child abuse cases. This is because teachers and caregivers who would normally alert agencies and hotlines over suspected abusive cases are no longer with children. The same may occur during the COVID pandemic as children are out of sight of teachers but at home to prevent the spread of the virus.
Cases of child abuse and child deaths have always been a prevalent issue globally. The World Health Organization estimates that up to half of the world’s children or approximately 1 billion children suffer annually from sexual, physical, verbal, psychological violence and abuse which sometimes leads to death. With the pandemic, these figures may increase.
A reason for a spike in child abuse is that parents and guardians who have always been abusers long before the pandemic now spend more time with their children which may mean more abuse for the children. Another is that children may also become more demanding causing parents to respond in abusive ways. Or maybe parents and guardians have just become more tense, angered and stressed from the pandemic effects and so are displacing their emotions on their children/wards. Whatever the excuses are, the pandemic does not seem to be ending soon and we cannot keep losing children over avoidable reasons.
Most countries have relevant laws to protect children against violence but only a few are enforced. WHO reported in June that out of over 80 percent of countries with these protection laws, less than half of the countries were serious with their implementation.
The UN strongly believes that, prior to the COVID pandemic, countries’ effort to protect children from violence using the recommended schemes have been passive. This shows children’s vulnerability to further violence during the present pandemic.
Countries’ inactiveness to protect children from violence should not discourage us. Whether or not child violence spikes during the pandemic, we still can help by being sensitive to the welfare of children around us.