SEATTLE, Washington — An August 2020 study, showing the rise of head-related trauma in children in the U.K., highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic is significantly affecting children worldwide. The study found that in the first month of quarantine in the U.K., between March 23 to April 23, 10 children were treated for abusive head trauma at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London. In the previous three years, the hospital’s average for related cases was 0.67 per month. The amount of youth head trauma cases at the London hospital signaled a major cause of concern for doctors as the cases amid the pandemic were significantly higher than the hospital’s monthly average. The hospital administration expressed concern that more head injuries are going untreated in the population, among the rise of child abuse during the pandemic.
Rising Child Abuse Cases Amid COVID-19
UNICEF, WHO and UNESCO’s 2020 Global Status Report on Preventing Violence Against Children shows that COVID-19 social distancing measures have severely increased the risk of violence in families, child abuse and online harassment. Since school closures have affected more than 1.5 billion children, youths are spending far more time closed in at home with their families. Caregivers and parents stressed by financial issues due to the pandemic, school closings, isolation and overcrowding can lead to more familial abuse.
“Violence against children has always been pervasive, and now things could be getting much worse,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore to the World Health Organization. “Lockdowns, school closures and movement restrictions have left far too many children stuck with their abusers, without the safe space that school would normally offer. It is urgent to scale up efforts to protect children during these times and beyond, including by designating social service workers as essential and strengthening child helplines.”
The WHO cites a rise in child abuse and intimate partner violence through the increase of helpline calls during the pandemic. Additionally, there has been an increase in cyberbullying, risky online behavior and sexual abuse due to the centrality of online learning with schools closed.
2020 Global Status Report on Preventing Violence Against Children
According to the global status report, one out of two children, or one billion children, suffer from some form of violence each year. Nearly three in four children aged 2 to 4 regularly suffer physical and/or psychological violence at the hands of parents and caregivers. Moreover, the report states one in three students aged 11 to 15 suffered bullying in the last month, and one in three students aged 13 to 15 were in a physical fight in the past year. Also, 120 million girls and young women under the age of 20 suffered some form of sexual violence. As a consequence, there are approximately 40,150 deaths per year in children aged 0 to 17 years, with more than twice as many youth deaths being male.
The report includes a seven strategy program called INSPIRE to end violence against children. These strategies include the implementation and enforcement of laws banning violent punishment of children and criminalizing sexual exploitation of children, community mobilization programs to change restrictive gender and social norms, educate the public about bystander intervention and addressing violence “hotspots” in communities. Additionally, the program plans to strengthen income and finance stability through gender equity and group saving training, support parents and caregivers through group and home visits, offer counseling, therapy, screening and juvenile treatment programs and increase enrollment in safe educational environments. Through INSPIRE, the humanitarian organizations hope to shape policy for government officials working in ministries, such as education, health, justice and social development, to invest in preventing violence against children.
Alleviating Poverty to Address the Rise of Child Abuse
Although raising children in poverty does not equate to child abuse, alleviating poverty may also help eliminate cases of child violence. In its fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families found that children in families of low socioeconomic status were at significantly greater risk of abuse. The Urban Institute found that 11% of infants living in poverty have a mother suffering from severe depression. It is much harder for mothers to take care of their children when they themselves are suffering from mental health issues, which can lead to abuse and neglect. Thus, poverty has the effect of creating an environment that produces child abuse.
Parents and caregivers living in poverty are already stressed by many factors, such as their financial situation and providing basic necessities for their children, which can lead to tension in the family. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, more impoverished children are at risk. It is clear from these reports that it is now more important than ever to work against child violence and help alleviate the circumstances that lead to youth abuse.