Prioritise the needs of children during Covid-19 lockdown

Amid concerns of the safety and well-being of children during the lockdown due to COVID-19, which is disrupting family routines and support systems, WMACA urged all parents/caregivers to ensure the protection of children and that their actions and decisions are in the best interest of their children.

Through a press campaign we asked them to remain vigilant and ensure that the protection of children is given utmost consideration at this time.

COVID-19 can quickly change the context in which children live. Quarantine measures such as school closures and restrictions on movements disrupt children’s routine and social support while also placing new stressors on parents and caregivers who may have to find new childcare options or forgo work.

Children and families who are already vulnerable due to socio-economic exclusion or those who live in overcrowded settings are particularly at risk.

From WMACA’s 20 years of working in vulnerable communities, we can confirm that realistic and up-close dangers include:

  • Reduced supervision and neglect of children.
  • Increased risk of sexual exploitation of children, including sex for assistance, commercial sexual exploitation of children and forced early marriage.
  • Pressure on or lack of access to child protection services.
  • Distress of children due to the death, illness, or separation of a loved one or fear of disease.
  • Availability and misuse of toxic disinfectants and alcohol, which could cause poisoning and other injuries to children.
  • Increased risk/limited support for children living/working on the street and other children already at risk.

To people in these communities, social distancing is an unrealistic expectation and it is necessary for the community forums and stakeholders working within, to find ways to ensure community safety and wellbeing.

In Alexandra for instance, a township near Sandton, where an estimated population of 750,000 people are tightly squeezed into an area of 800ha, a large number of people live together in each household and from a doorway it may be literally 2 meters to another doorway.

WMACA’s Kidz Clinic in Alexandra treats around 1300 cases of child abuse, including rape and sexual assault, each year. Unemployment and vagrancy is rife, and now that movement is restricted, children are in a position where a perpetrator could be only metres away.

In the first week of lockdown the adults were giving a bad example of disregard for the police and the SANDF, effectively breaking down respect for the authorities. Therefore we called on the departments of Health and Community Safety, as well as the SAPS to establish mechanisms to ensure that communities facing restrictions on movement have continued access to child-friendly, holistic care for children experiencing violence.

Community leaders need to step up in this time of crisis and encourage their constituents to play a supporting role when health and law enforcement members are inundated. It is a time that requires all members of society to remain vigilant over the safety of our children, women and persons with disabilities.

We recommended that parents use the lockdown period to build positive relationships with their children, and to have planned activities that will keep their children meaningfully occupied during this period.

We posted emergency helplines on our social media as well as to the press.

  • Always ensure that children are visible and in the presence of an adult.
  • Don’t let children go to the shops or spazas on their own.
  • Community members must ensure they have the number of where to report suspected abuse to.