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Complexities of protecting children from violence during the COVID-19 pandemic: Providers’ and policymakers’ best practices, innovations and challenges in 12 countries
Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has put children at an increased risk of neglect, violence and other human rights violations. Despite growing evidence of its impact on child protective services, there has been a dearth of research from low- and middle-income countries. This cross-sectional qualitative study explored service providers’ and policymakers’ views and experiences of children’s protection, in real-time, in the last quarter of 2020. A smartphone app-based survey containing both open- and closed-ended questions was used. The data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and qualitative content analysis. Eighty-four respondents participated, including service providers, service managers and policymakers, mostly representing non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society organizations (CSOs) and governments across 12 countries (predominantly Kenya, South Africa and the Philippines). Most respondents reported their sectors had experienced challenges in protecting children from violence — particularly delays in reporting abuse and pursuing justice, and reaching those living in poor and/or rural areas. Good practices and innovations in children’s protection during the pandemic were reported in several domains: advocacy and signposting; justice; health care; education and awareness-raising; children’s visibility; and virtual service delivery. Community resources and involvement were also highlighted as vital. The ineffectiveness of child protection laws, policies and organizational responses, however, hindered the implementation of effective practices. The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the complexities and interconnectivity of systems, processes and actors and their joint impact on children’s protection and rights. Collectively, the findings reinforce the criticality of collaborative, urgent and child-centered responses.