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A Child-rights Based Approach to the Pandemic

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Gemma Cavaliere
Outreach and Development Officer, Defence for Children International (DCI)

Social Workers in Palestine at DCI project site

Children face many direct and indirect long-term social and economic consequences from the global pandemic. As a recent UN study has found, the coronavirus pandemic has pushed an additional 150 million children into multidimensional poverty – deprived of education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation or water. Similarly, disruption of health services affects the ability to protect life-saving maternal, newborn and child health services.

Learning from Past Experiences

The stage of the outbreak can vary by country as well as different factors of vulnerability. This has complicated the protection of children’s rights at a global level and instead required national and regional approaches. For instance, the low level of hygiene in detention facilities worsens the impact of the pandemic for children deprived of liberty, while the overcrowding of temporary settlements facilitates the spread of the virus among children and their families on the move. One of the indirect consequences of the containment measures is the increase of violence against children, as living in a confined space increases the risk of domestic violence and sexual abuse. 

Defence For Children International (DCI) is a leading child rights focused and membership-based grassroots movement that is applying lessons learned from Ebola to this current pandemic. DCI has been promoting and protecting children’s rights on a global, regional, national, and local level for 40 years. DCI is represented through its National Sections and Associated Members in 39 countries located in Africa, Asia, Europe, Americas, the Middle East and Northern Africa.

Their experience shows that health crises can trigger additional exclusion, discrimination, violence and abuse against children. Looking at the recent past, it turned out, for example, that school closings during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra-Leone had led, among other things, to more cases of violence and sexual abuse. Already in April 2020, DCI-Jordan needed to rent additional locations as shelters for women and girl victims of rape in order not to put at risk the health of the current residents.

The Global DCI Survey 

Defence for Children International (DCI) conducted a survey in April 2020 on the impact of the pandemic on children and local communities where DCI is present. Through these responses, they compiled a report for experts, practitioners, youth representatives, governments and donors aimed at leveraging DCI first-hand experience to protect and promote a child-rights based approach to the pandemic. 

Preparedness and Good Practices

In some countries, DCI stepped in to ask States to uphold the rights of children as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to ensure their protection and guarantee equal access to education and health care. In other circumstances, DCI called on States to do more in terms of prevention and tracing, or to subsidize more targeted programs from the bottom-up, thus involving more civil society organizations in the decision-making process through social dialogue. 

Some examples of this include:

In Palestine, DCI social workers had to divert calls from the hotlines to their personal numbers to cope with an unprecedented number of emergency assistance requests. DCI-Palestine also reported “…lawyers and field workers can’t collect the necessary evidence of child rights violations: monitoring visits and social services in detention centres are forbidden, whether to collect affidavits from detained children on the forms of torture and ill treatment during their arrest, or to provide prior-interrogation consultations.”

In Latin America, an alliance was formed to tackle the specific impact on children deprived of liberty. The Alliance is composed by DCI-Americas, the NGO Justicia Juvenil International (JJI), ILANUD and Fair Trials and it collects quality information from the region on emergency action and / or protocols for the prevention and mitigation of contagions inside the detention centres.

In Sierra Leone, the thematic area of Justice for Children has been particularly highlighted “… with regards to Family Tracing and Reunification and Reintegration for children who have come into contact and into conflict with the law. This is largely because of the need to observe government regulations on limited movements and the need for social distancing.” DCI - Sierra Leone. 

In the Netherlands, there is a Child Help Line and a specific crisis fund established within two weeks’ time to support vulnerable children. 

The Coronavirus Impact on Children on the Move

With the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the needs of children on the move have become even more acute. DCI supports children on the move in various contexts and countries. 

DCI-Morocco urged the international community for support as children are now roaming the streets without resources or protection. Children on the move require not only physical, but also psychological support. DCI-Lebanon affirmed that the situation is worrisome, particularly for refugee children who do not have access to regular psychological support. Only one week after a coronavirus outbreak was detected in a camp in Lesvos, there was a huge fire. Greek authorities halted the registration of new asylum cases in April 2020.

Ensuring Online Child Participation

One area of work deeply touched by the crisis was child participation, due to the many cancellations of events. Based on this evidence, DCI organized more child-led events, including an on-line child conversation held in July, to hear from children about their personal experience of the crisis and which issues global leaders should prioritize to ensure a gender-based approach during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. 

Participants highlighted for the future the importance of the creation of a common platform to share and update documents regarding the pandemic and children rights; the participation in video-conference debates and Webinars on issues related to children rights; the translation of summaries of important documents from other sections; and the sharing of national experiences and ways forward.

Overall, DCI remained a watchdog on child rights violations, and, even though immediate and equitably distributed resources are always limited, we hope throughout our work to inspire individual and collective change during the COVID19 period and beyond. 

This blog was originally written for the COVID 4P Log website and posted by Inspiring Children’s Futures at the University of Strathclyde. It has been adapted and reposted with permission from Inspiring Children’s Futures and DCI. DCI, like the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, was a key partner in the development and promotion of the COVID 4P Log.