SANTIAGO, Chile (CMC) — A new, joint report by three United Nations agencies has warned of increased risk of violence in the home against children and adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children have also issued recommendations to address the problem. 

“In the time of COVID-19, children and adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean have been and continue to be exposed to greater risk of becoming victims of violence in the home, while they also enjoy fewer protection factors,” says the report, “Violence against children and adolescents in the time of COVID-19.”

It warns that estimates point to a prevalence of 55 per cent of physical aggression and 48 per cent of psychological aggression in child rearing in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

It adds that, in the context of containing the pandemic, protection factors have eroded, while the risk of violence has intensified. 

On the one hand, the report says there is a lower capacity to detect episodes of violence due to physical isolation and the suspension of in-person activities at educational institutions and early childhood development centres; a reduction in states’ social coverage; and the economic crisis, which has had a negative impact on household income levels.

“Compounding all this is the fact that there is limited Internet access and coverage, and the generational gap in knowledge of the digital environment limits adults’ adequate supervision and guidance of children who spend more time online now,” the report says.

Furthermore, the report warns that there has been an exacerbation of the risk factors for children and adolescents to become victims of violence in the home. 

These include an increase in reports of violence against women (which is closely tied to the violence perpetrated against children and adolescents); heightened stress and anxiety; the economic impact on childhood and adolescence; and the fact that children and adolescents, as well as perpetrators of sexual violence, are engaged in more online activity.

To address violence against children and adolescents within the framework of the response to the COVID-19 crisis, the document proposes recommendations for enhancing the policies, programs and actions that existed prior to the crisis.

The recommendations are: Put children at the centre of policies and plans for the economic recovery of countries in order to roll back the increase in poverty and eradicate historic inequities that perpetuate structural challenges, such as gender-based violence and violence against children and adolescents, while at the same time rebuilding trust in democratic institutions; and optimise resources through the alignment of services that, among other things, allow for addressing cases of violence against women, and against children and adolescents, in a coordinated way that expands the number of recipients of public assistance services, that provides specific and differentiated treatment for populations that were already vulnerable, and that promotes the care economy and the balanced distribution of roles and tasks.

In addition, the report recommends guaranteeing universal social protection for families including cash stimulus, universal health coverage and recognising childhood protection, mental health and education as essential services and part of a rights-based, cross-sector response; making a sustained investment in childhood and strengthen services for children’s welfare and protection vis-à-vis all forms of violence; and promoting gender-based labor policies aimed at supporting positive parenting.

The document also proposes involving children and adolescents in creating solutions and opportunities at the community, local, regional and national levels.

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