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Monrovia, June 16 – SOS Children’s Villages Liberia calls on government, policymakers and organizations working with children to protect their rights and ensure equal access to a child-friendly justice system as African governments celebrate the Day of the African Child.

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic presents one of the major challenges to the growth and development of children on the African continent. The Director-General of the WHO declared the outbreak of COVID-19 as a Pandemic on the 11th of March 2020. Cases of COVID-19 have been reported in all African countries.

The impact of COVID-19 and the response measures of Member States must take into account (as much as possible) the prevailing context of Child Rights in Africa, including, multi-dimensional poverty, crisis, conflicts, and the situation of Children in emergencies (including other subsisting infectious diseases outbreaks such as Lassa Fever and Cholera, etc.) amongst other factors. The rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus has led authorities to take necessary measures to ensure children’s’ health and safety. SOS Children’s Villages’ staff is committed to taking all possible steps to protect children and assist families in vulnerable situations.

Although children are generally affected at a lower rate by the virus, according to the latest medical research, but authorities, caregivers, organizations, and the community need to be vigilant to avoid the current situation from leading to child rights violations and long-lasting trauma for them.

“Children and young people who live in circumstances where they risk neglect, abuse, and discrimination might face additional risks if care, support and proper monitoring by care professionals and social workers are restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Augustine A. Allieu, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Liberia.

Children and families who face social exclusion and discrimination, live in overcrowded and unsanitary environments, or have pre-existing health conditions such as HIV, tuberculosis or diabetes are particularly at risk.

SOS Children’s Villages Liberia calls on authorities, care providers, and communities to carefully monitor children’s situation, and act to guarantee every child’s protection from abuse.

The general feeling of insecurity and instability due to changing daily routines and measures caused by COVID-19 response measures affects children and causes increased distress, especially for those who have experienced neglect, abandonment, abuse and exploitation. Children’s lives have been disrupted including witnessing deaths in their families.

Public Authorities should closely monitor the situation of children and families and offer immediate support to families who show signs of facing challenges in providing care to their children. While measures restricting contact and access to schools and public facilities are needed to reduce the further spread of the COVID-19 virus, they should not compromise children’s protection and care needs.

National authorities should also adopt special measures to ensure the protection of children who have no parental care and fully depend on child care professionals and social workers to receive information and care.

Authorities need to provide care professionals and social workers with adequate support to continue to monitor and respond to the needs of the most vulnerable children and families. They should receive equipment, work arrangements and training to safely continue their work.

Protection measures and insurances need to be put into place to compensate caregivers and social workers who put their health at risk in providing this essential service and thus also extend a higher risk of infection to their families. Care professionals and social workers are indispensable to guarantee all children and young people’s well being.

Additional support will be needed for children and families to maintain balanced daily routines and to prevent a negative mental health impact and to uphold education, play and family communication.

Care providers and social workers should closely monitor families where parents already face challenges such as financial difficulties or physical and mental health issues. These families are now confronted with feelings of insecurity and the additional pressure and responsibility of keeping their children indoors and out of school and daycare centres. Care professionals and social workers should be vigilant to risks of domestic violence, child neglect and abuse.

Communities play a key role in supporting and alerting authorities and care professionals in case children are at risk. Every member of the community, such as neighbours, family members, friends or doctors should be aware of the need to pay close attention to the well being of children around them.  Community awareness and the active participation of all will be essential to ensure the safety of children and young people and the support of families and community services.

SOS Children’s Villages is an international child care and child protection non-governmental organization that was established in 1949. Our vision is a world where “Every child belongs to a family and grows with love, respect and security”. We build families for children in need, we help them shape their own futures and we share in the development of their communities. SOS Children’s Villages started operations in Liberia in 1981. We deliver support mainly to our primary target group, which is children that have lost parental care or are at the risk of losing parental care. Our support is delivered through: 1) Family-like Care; 2) Family Strengthening; and 3) Youth Empowerment.

Editor’s note:

The Day of the African Child is celebrated on June 16 every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) – now African Union (AU). It honors those who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976 for economic and social justice, but also creates awareness of the continuing need for improvement of the lives of children on the African continent.

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Email: joseph.joboe@sosliberia.org