During these times that have forced Inter-American citizens to remain isolated at home, the amount of abuse and traumatizing events inflicted upon children and adolescents have also increased. For thousands of children and teens, schools, after-school programs and clubs were the refuge from physically abusive parents, sexually abusive neighbours, and verbally abusive relatives at home. What’s more, many teens and kids that relied on food programs conducted outside of home where they received their only sufficient meal of the day have now been completely shut down. School teachers, councillors, or club supervisors were, in many individual’s lives, the only adults children could trust and contact when faced with inconsiderate and abusive adults in their lives. They are now more far then they could have ever been, and most shelters have shut down to stop the spread of COVID-19. What’s most frightening however, is that because the general public has become so focused on the development of the pandemic and the medical aspect of the pandemic, little is being done or being paid attention to help those whose meals and institutional protection from abuse has significantly gone downwards to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
THE PROOF OF ITS EXISTENCEThere is global data to support this. Here are some data regarding abuse rising in the Americas during this pandemic:
- In Bogota, Colombia, according to Claudia López Hernández, the city’s mayor, the first weeks of the lockdown resulted in all crime statistics to go down except for one: calls to police’s 24/7 hotline to report violence against women had surged 225 percent.
- A study conducted by the Observatorio Ahora Que Si Nos Ven shows that at least 86 femicides have occurred in Argentina in 2020 and that one woman was killed every 29 hours in March, for a total of 24 femicides «We know that the quarantine is a situation that puts a woman at risk, because femicides primarily occur in our homes,» said Lara Andres, a member of the Observatorio Ahora Que Si Nos Ven. In 65 percent of the cases, it is the partner or ex-partner who has killed the woman, the observatory has found. In 62 percent of the cases, the murder occurred in the victim’s home.
- According to a statistical analysis since COVID prepared by the York Regional Police, north of Toronto in Canada, domestic complaints including those regarding severe domestic assaults have risen by 22 percent.
- Edmonton Police Service in Canada reported that police have seen an almost 52 per cent increase in mental health calls from the city in March 2020 compared to March 2019, stating that “serious” domestic violence is also up significantly. There have been 62 per cent more calls for domestic violence, based on a wider timeframe, since January, compared to the same period last year.
- Over the course of only FIVE consecutive days in March, Dr. Jamye Coffman saw seven children and infants who had been abused so severely that they required hospitalization at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, USA. At the time, the city, along with the rest of Texas, had recently declared an emergency over the rapid spread of novel coronavirus. Typically, the hospital sees fewer than 10 cases of fatal child abuse in a year, but that week, two died from their injuries. Coffman said she is concerned that a trend she has seen before will play out again as the nation reels from the profound effects of the virus and the stresses brought on by mass unemployment, food insecurity and illness.
What’s worse, is that in many Inter-American states, the number of reported child abuse cases have deceivingly dropped because children have been isolated at home and cannot report their abuses like they could before to people they trust, such as pediatricians, teachers and sports coaches, according to Lynn Davis, president and CEO of the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center and Dr. Jayme Coffman, medical director of the Center for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect and with Cook Children’s in Fort Worth.
For example, during the first week of March, there were more than 11,000 calls to the Texas abuse hotline of the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. By the last week of March, there were fewer than 2,500. Davis thinks he knows why there’s been a big drop: Vital eyes and ears of the community aren’t around to detect signs of abuse, he said. “We know our main source of reports comes from school teachers and school personnel,” he said. “And since the children are not in school, those reports are not being made and that concerns us greatly.”
Policy makers at the IIN-OAS and judicial officials of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights may collectively implement strict policies that can protect their child and youth citizens. Viewing and enacting the recommendations developed by the UN children’s agency, together with its partners at the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action would be the most optimal first step. The Alliance has released a set of guidance to support authorities and organizations involved in the response and recommends that governments and protection authorities take concrete steps to ensure protection of children is integral to all COVID-19 prevention and control measures, including:
- Train health, education and child services staff on COVID-19 related child protection risks, including on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse and how to safely report concerns.
- Train first responders on how to manage disclosure of gender-based violence (GBV Pocket Guide), and collaborate with healthcare services to support GBV survivors;
- Ensure the protection of all children is given the utmost consideration in disease control measures.
- Put in place concrete measures to prevent child-family separation, and ensure support for children left alone without adequate care due to the hospitalization or death of a parent or caregiver.
- Provide targeted support to interim care centres and families, including child-headed households and foster families, to emotionally support children and engage in appropriate self-care.
- Provide financial and material assistance to families whose income generating opportunities have been affected.
Written by: Shifa Sarker