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Source: Save The Children

Regional leaders must put children’s rights at the heart of their fight against Coronavirus

Asian leaders must ensure that millions of children are protected from domestic violence and other forms of abuse as part of their COVID-19 response strategies, seven major international child rights agencies warned today.

The effects of the pandemic are already taking a devastating toll on children, in particular the most vulnerable, as access to education and healthcare becomes more difficult and family finances are hit hard as households lose their livelihoods and sources of income.

Self-isolation and lockdown measures also increase the risk of children, in particular girls, becoming the victims of domestic violence, online bullying or other forms of abuse. Girls are also less likely than boys to return to school when normal classes eventually resume.

Many Asian countries have already reported sharp rises in domestic violence – in India and Singapore, for example, calls to domestic violence hotlines have increased dramatically. The Philippines has seen a string of humiliating and degrading punishments meted out to children and young people for breaking COVID-19 curfews.

17-year-old Mandira from Nepal participated in Save the Children’s COVID-19 digital hangout sessions, and said:

“Parents are frustrated during the lockdown, and children are also restless. I have witnessed parents getting irritated with their children and hitting them – but they don’t realize children need attention, they need to know what’s happening, as they feel caged inside the house.”

In recent weeks, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) have announced measures to coordinate responses to the pandemic, but children’s rights are only partly featured in them.  As the 18 countries that make up ASEAN and SAARC are home to some 850 million children, their rights must be front and centre in the fight against the virus.

In a joint statement today, the seven leading child rights agencies (Child Rights Coalition Asia, ChildFund, Plan International, Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages, Terre des Hommes, and World Vision International) urge ASEAN and SAARC to make sure that child protection measures are included in the virus response.

Amihan V. Abueva, Regional Executive Director, Child Rights Coalition Asia, said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a child rights crisis in Asia. Due to school closures across the region, tens of millions of children have been forced into potentially unsafe home environments for weeks or months on end. We have received extremely worrying reports from several countries that domestic violence is on the rise. Governments of ASEAN and SAARC must put children’s well-being at the centre of the pandemic response. Child protection services must be designated as essential and be given adequate resources to respond to reports of abuse.”

Hassan Saadi Noor, Asia Regional Director, Save the Children, said:

“Children are often the hidden victims of any crisis and this one is no different. While the virus is apparently more deadly for the elderly, children still suffer in other untold ways. In particular, the most vulnerable and marginalized children need our help more than ever – refugees and migrants, those living in poverty, disabled children and children in institutions such as orphanages.”

“The Coronavirus originated in Asia, and there are signs the worst is yet to come in some countries. We welcome that ASEAN and SAARC have committed to coordinating their responses to the pandemic. We urge them to do so by leaving politics aside, collaborating closely, sharing information openly and transparently, and strengthening ties to NGOS who are already on the frontlines of the fight against the virus. It’s vital we ensure that children don’t suffer because of measures taken to contain COVID-19 so when this is all over they can return to normal life with minimal distress or trauma.” 

NOTE TO EDITORS:

  • The full statement from seven child rights agencies including a list of seven recommendations for Asian leaders available here.

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