Mutare — Children can be 'hidden victims' of Coronavirus (COVID-19) if governments fail to strategize ways to lessen the effects of the pandemic on them, a regional non-governmental organization has cautioned.
In a statement on the possible negative effects of the pandemic on minors, Southern Africa HIV & AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS) called on governments to establish proactive steps towards improving children's welfare as an investment in developing human capital.
SAfAIDS said there are increased risks of abuse to minors, a possible spike in child pregnancies and concomitant child marriages for household food security- a danger more pronounced by faltering economies in Sub-Sahara Africa.
SAfAIDS is a regional non-profit organization based in Southern Africa (Zimbabwe South Africa, Zambia, Swaziland, and Mozambique) focusing on HIV and TB prevention, care and treatment, integration of HIV and sexual and reproductive health services, addressing the links between HIV, culture and GBV, and addressing the rights of marginalized communities.
SAfAIDS Executive Director, Rouzeh Eghtessadi, said there was a need for establishing a 'new norm' which helps minors cope with the effects of the pandemic as a matter of urgency.
She said the imperative to take responsibility was a shared task that needs mandatory action without which children will be 'hidden victims' of the global pandemic.
"As COVID-19 steers us into a new way of living; the social protection, psychosocial learning, development and safety of our children requires establishing a pattern of "new norm" for their rights and well-being.
"Our children must not become statistic as 'the hidden victims of COVID-19'. This is not optional. This cannot wait for later. This is all our responsibilities, now," said Eghtessadi.
With regional governments currently on lockdown, SAfAIDS said this isolation removes safety nets, for children prone to abuse or exposed to domestic violence, previously provided by neighbors and the school-who would previously be able to identify, intervene and reduce these risks.
SAfAIDS also called on governments to provide support for vulnerable members of society to alleviate hunger as well as curbing child marriages as tools to fight hunger.
"Governments can both lessen the worst effects of the pandemic on children in the months to come, and establish policies towards improving children's lives in the long-term after the pandemic is over. This is a matter of smart investment in developing human capital.
"During lockdown, risks of abuse - including sexual violence- unintended pregnancies and even marrying off girls for household economic security, increase. The isolation of households which lockdowns create, provide perpetrators with some immunity from the protective eye of society...
"Government support to needy households is not only critical for alleviating hunger, but also to curb potential of families deciding to marry off girl children for economic security.
"... SAfAIDS urges CSOs and development partners to amplify their advocacy actions for States to establishing creative working (and safe) mechanisms that safeguard children from the real, and increasingly recorded (since lockdowns starters) adversities outlined above," read part of the statement.