New Delhi: The Covid-19 pandemic has caused disruptions to child protection services in more than 100 countries, leaving a large number of children at increased risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, said a global survey by UNICEF on Wednesday.

Of 136 countries that responded to the agency’s “Socio-Economic Impact Survey of Covid-19 Response”, 104 countries reported a disruption in services related to violence against children.

Around two-thirds of countries reported that at least one service had been severely affected, including South Africa, Malaysia, Nigeria and Pakistan.

South Asia, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia have the highest proportion of countries reporting disruptions in the availability of services.

“We are just beginning to fully understand the damage done to children because of their increased exposure to violence during pandemic lockdowns,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, said in a statement.

“Ongoing school closures and movement restrictions have left some children stuck at home with increasingly stressed abusers. The subsequent impact on protection services and social workers means children have nowhere to turn for help.”

As countries adopted prevention and control measures to contain Covid-19, many vital violence prevention and response services were suspended or interrupted as a result.

More than half of the countries reported disruptions in case management, referral services and home visits by child welfare and social workers to children and women at risk of abuse.

Violence prevention programmes, children’s access to child welfare authorities, and national helpline services have also been affected in many countries, according to the responses.

Even before the pandemic, children’s exposure to violence was widespread, with about half of the world’s children experiencing corporal punishment at home and 1 in 3 adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 having been victimised by their intimate partner at some point in their lives.

“Child protection systems were already struggling to prevent and respond to violence against children, and now a global pandemic has both made the problem worse and tied the hands of those meant to protect those at risk,” added Fore.

In India, UNICEF is working with CHILDLINE which has been declared an emergency service by the Indian government to handle some of the immediate and long term consequences of Covid-19 related to protection of children.

It received 4.6 lakh calls in 21 days from March 20 to April 10.

Nearly 10,000 of these were intervention cases which required CHILDLINE staff to reach the children in need of support.

Of these 30 per cent were related to Covid-19 and with a need for protection from abuse and exploitation.

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Indo-Asian News Service or IANS is a private Indian news agency. The IANS was founded by Indian American publisher Gopal Raju as the India Abroad News Service. It was later renamed the Indo-Asian News Service

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