COVID-19 increases risk of abuse and exploitation for refugee children

31 Mar 2020 by Gabriel Thomas, News Media Advisor
COVID-19 increases risk of abuse and exploitation for refugee children

As essential measures are employed to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 in refugee camps and fragile countries, some of the world’s most vulnerable children will be placed in unprecedented risk of abuse and exploitation, says World Vision.

30 million children have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict, violence and persecution and are already living in precarious and insecure conditions.The impact of restricted freedom of movement and the suspension of aid on these vulnerable children must be fully understood and responded to. 

“High population density and inadequate housing conditions in camps or informal settlements mean measures to prevent and respond to COVID-19, such as quarantine and social distancing, are simply not possible. People living in such places will find it very difficult to protect themselves from Coronavirus.” said World Vision International’s Global Director of Humanitarian Operations, Isabel Gomes.

“On top of this, children are now no longer able to access many of the services that were available to them before. COVID-19 threatens to not only directly affect children but also act as a major multiplier of child protection threats such as physical and sexual violence, exploitation and abuse, child marriage, child labour and gender-based violence. COVID-19 is also likely to increase the number of separated and unaccompanied minors as elder care givers are at high risk of mortality from the virus.”

World Vision is working in over-crowded urban areas and in high-risk camps and settlements, to prevent the transmission of the virus and to mitigate the unseen effects on the most vulnerable. The international aid agency’s frontline response team are introducing preventative measures such as hygiene kits, quality facemasks and sanitizer, sanitation training, protection and education. 

“Our main aim is to protect vulnerable children and their families from the catastrophic effects of COVID-19. Apart from escalating our direct solutions such as hygiene and sanitation training, we are also working with faith leaders and governments to limit misinformation and encourage a focus on the most vulnerable.” 

World Vision is calling for the international community to prioritise COVID-19 funding for child protection and to also prioritise conflict-affected, internally displaced and refugee populations. COVID-19 prevention and response programmes, including healthcare and sanitation services, must be made available to all children and communities regardless of status. Alternative education mechanisms should be put in place immediately and traditional education services must be made available as soon as it is safe to do so. 

“While we must employ new methods to tackle an evolving epidemic and tightening restrictions, World Vision’s efforts and passion to protect refugees, and internally displaced communities, particularly children and their families, go ahead despite challenges. It is vital that the world protects these children from bearing the burden of this virus and we continue to urge world leaders and government to join in a unified response”.

Gabriel Thomas, News Media Advisor, World Vision New Zealand  |  ‚Äč+64 21 360 098