The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the National Child Protection Agency (NCPA) are gravely concerned by the dramatic rise in the proportion of child cruelty cases reported to the 1929 child helpline since the start of Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 curfew.
In the three-week period between 16 March – 7 April 2020, the proportion of child cruelty cases as a total all reported child protection complaints, rose from 10 per cent to 40 per cent.
“The quick action of the Government of Sri Lanka has been successful in limiting the spread of COVID-19 in the country and protecting those at high risk. This is to their great credit”said Tim Sutton, Representative, UNICEF Sri Lanka, “With schools closed, children at home all day and many parents unable to work; stress, isolation and economic hardship are increasing the risk of domestic violence, child cruelty and abuse. Our message is simple; Firstly, we urge parents and families to spend quality time with children and practice ‘positive discipline’ not physical harm in the face of stress. Secondly, we call on everybody to ensure that children do not become the victims of this needed health action. If they are concerned about a child in danger, call the NCPA 1929 helpline immediately.”
Professor Vidanapathirana, Chairperson of the NCPA commented “While we know that this is an extremely challenging and stressful time for all of Sri Lanka we must absolutely ensure that children, who are often the most vulnerable in our society, do not suffer cruelty, violence and abuse. Despite the curfew, the NCPA has ensured that the 1929 child helpline is fully staffed and open 24 hours a day. I ask all Sri Lankans this; if you are worried about the safety or wellbeing of any child, report it immediately. We must not be in a situation where children are protected from COVID-19, for them just to be damaged by violence and abuse.”
The dramatic rise experienced is consistent with global evidence from previous infectious disease outbreaks that show that child protection incidents such as violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect are aggravated during these times. Speaking earlier this month, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urgently highlighted the need for measures to address a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” which is being experienced by women and girls and linked to lockdowns imposed by governments responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. A combination of economic and social stresses brought on by the pandemic, as well as restrictions on movement, have dramatically increased the numbers of women and children, especially girls, who are facing abuse, in almost all countries.
UNICEF is asking parents to adopt ‘positive parenting’, a way of parenting which focuses on encouraging positive aspects of child behavior rather than punishing negative behavior and which holds children to realistic standards by using clear expectations and empowering children to become capable and resilient.
To support parents and caregivers to practice healthy caregiving and to get through the current challenging situation, UNICEF has published a set of parenting tips, that can be accesses on BetterParenting.LK in Sinhala, Tamil and English including have one-on-one time, create a structure, self-care first to manage stress, talk about COVID-19 and to keep positive. (Colombo Gazette)