GENEVA (6 May 2020) – A UN human rights expert today warned that a reported surge in violence against children and new forms of sexual exploitation and abuse of them during COVID-19 lockdowns will have lifelong implications for millions worldwide.
Mama Fatima Singhateh, the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, said between 42 million and 66 million children worldwide are already in a precarious socio-economic situation, even before the hidden impact of the COVID-19 crisis emerges.
“The damage to millions of children will be devastating if we are slow in mobilising child protection services for early detection and prevention,” Singhateh said.
“A comprehensive mapping and rapid and responsive child protection measures are paramount to assess the magnitude of this crisis on the most vulnerable children, including those who are refugees, displaced, homeless, migrants, minorities, slum-dwellers, living with disabilities, living on the streets, living in refugee settlements, and in institutions,” she said.
The independent expert said COVID-19 travel restrictions had spawned new forms of child sexual exploitation and abuse, including attempts to establish a “delivery” or “drive-thru” service for sexual exploitation of children.
“There has also been a spike in the number of attempts to access illegal websites featuring child sexual abuse material. Producing and accessing child sexual abuse material and live-stream child sexual abuse online has now become an easy alternative to groom and lure children into sexual activities and to trade images in online communities,” Singhateh said.
The COVID-19 pandemic will leave those already left behind trailing even further behind. “Our commitments made under Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to leave no one behind is now more relevant than ever.”
Social benefits and social protection nets should prioritise low-income and vulnerable communities and families to alleviate COVID-19 collateral damage on children, the expert said.
Victim and survivor outreach, non-discriminatory child protection systems, public education and awareness campaigns, expanded helpline services and safe accommodation were among essential measures to mitigate harm.
“The UN Secretary-General’s Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on children should serve as a roadmap to shape our response to the crisis. In doing so, children should be given the space for meaningful and inclusive participation so that their voices would be heard and amplified in decisions affecting their lives,” Singhateh concluded.
Ms. Mama Fatima Singhateh (The Gambia) was appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on sale and sexual exploitation of childrenby the UN Human Rights Council in March 2020. She is a trained lawyer with almost 20 years of experience. Ms Singhateh has held a number of high-level positions in public service in the Gambia. She holds a master’s degree in International Business Law from the University of Hull and has undergone numerous trainings in child rights programming, arbitration and mediation, and legislative drafting. She has drafted laws, organized and conducted numerous training sessions, delivered presentations at both national and international fora and written articles and reports on issues relating to the promotion and protection of the rights of the child.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
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