Independent UN human rights experts have called on States to boost child protection measures to help safeguard the welfare of millions of children who may be more exposed to violence, sale, trafficking, sexual abuse and exploitation during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, and Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Representative on violence against children, issued the appeal, emphasizing that parents, caregivers, service providers and law enforcement officials all need extra support to minimize the heightened risks to youngsters.
“Globally, confinement measures and the disrupted provision of already limited child protection services exacerbate the vulnerability of children living in psychiatric and social care institutions, orphanages, refugee camps, immigration detention centres and other closed facilities”, said Ms. de Boer-Buquicchio.
At a time of lockdowns and home isolation, children are at greater risk of experiencing violence, exploitation and challenges to their mental health. “This is especially true of those who are already in vulnerable situations”, Ms. M’jid added.
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The experts urged governments to ensure that adequately staffed and equipped child protection services and law enforcement are available and accessible to all children. This includes toll-free 24-hours hotlines, free texting services, remote psychological and social services and mobile shelters for minors. Where such vital services are missing, some victims are bound to endure abuse by their own caregivers, the experts warned.
In addition, travel restrictions and the increase in online users will likely lead to a significant spike in sexual grooming online by paedophiles and predators, live streaming of child sexual abuse and the production and distribution of child sexual abuse material – making robust collaboration between private industry and law enforcement essential.
Police forces must be trained to monitor encrypted paedophile networks and lawfully access retained computer IP addresses to secure evidence.
“We should all make significant efforts to support frontline operators in the child protection services, neighbourhood and community watchdogs and law enforcement”, the experts said, and equally, empower children to respond to the crisis through peer-to-peer initiatives.
The appeal has been endorsed by Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women; and Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. They work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General is a global independent advocate in favour of the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against children.