COVID-19: ‘Children Could Face Increased Risk of Child Labour, Sexual Exploitation’

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By Adedayo Akinwale

Save the Children International Nigeria has warned that the Coronavirus pandemic will force many poor households to turn to desperate measures to survive, while children could face increased risk of child labour, sexual exploitation and child marriage.

The Acting Country Director of the organisation, Mercy Gichuhi, in a statement issued on Thursday expressed concerned that the COVID-19 could turn into a serious child rights crisis in Nigeria, as hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable children could be exposed to a dangerous mix of extreme poverty, malnutrition and hunger as a result of the virus.

Save the Children therefore urged the government at all levels to scale up social protection measures such as; provision of cash and food assistance for the most vulnerable children and families, to urgently mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

Gichuhi stated: “The socio-economic impact of the pandemic will push many poor households to turn to desperate measures just to survive. Children could face increased risk of child labour or sexual exploitation or of child marriage, as families struggle to feed their families.”

“As the numbers of COVID-19 cases rise in Nigeria to 782, and the virus is spreading to different States, we are working hard to mitigate the negative impact this will have on the most vulnerable children, especially in fragile communities. Children are seriously affected when parents and caregivers are infected by the virus and taken away for care. We are working closely with the government to support efforts to contain the virus and keep children safe and protected amid the pandemic.”

The organisation said it would work with all stakeholders towards better accessible social protection services to reach the most vulnerable people – including through the scaling up and reform of existing social protection and livelihood programmes.

It equally called on the government to provide appropriate care and protection for children, including children who are orphaned or left without proper care because their caregivers are in hospital because of the virus.

Gichuhi said that through existing social safety net programs, government should also provide immediate income and livelihood support to vulnerable families to reduce the risk of people taking desperate measures that would put children, particularly girls, at risk.

“We must act now and rapidly scale up support for children whose families’ income is insecure and live in fragile communities. There is a need for increased protection for children, especially girls, displaced children, and other vulnerable groups. Our collective efforts and sustainable actions in responding to the pandemic should ensure that no child is left behind, vulnerable or unprotected,” Gichuhi noted.