Protecting forcibly displaced children during the COVID-19 pandemic: UNHCR response and field practices

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Children face three dangers during the COVID-19 pandemic: 1) infection with the virus; 2) the immediate impacts of measures to stop transmission of the virus (school closures for example); and 3) the long-term impact of the resulting economic crisis on social and economic development with regard to the Sustainable Development Goals. Their impact on children will vary based on their age, gender, vulnerability, health, disability, family situation and the wide-ranging, dynamic conditions of their environment.

Disruption of services and movement restrictions limit children’s access to life-saving services, including health, mental health and psychosocial support, as well as case management. Movement restrictions have also separated children from their families, or caregivers, and often made reunification more difficult, if not impossible.

Disruptions to families, friendships and daily routines have had negative consequences for children’s well-being resulting in high levels of stress, anxiety and harmful coping strategies.

Closure of schools deprives many girls and boys not only of education, but also of basic social and psychological support, child protection services, and, for many, access to school feeding programs.

Worsening socio-economic situations also expose children to a variety of forms of exploitation and abuse, such as child labour, child trafficking, and child marriage.

Confinement to home has led to increased violence, including sexual and gender-based violence against children and limited their options to seek assistance. Caregivers, women and girls in particular, are vulnerable to such violence, as they are left exposed to harmful family coping mechanisms in times of crisis. In Chad, UNHCR’s most recent monitoring showed that more than 71% of refugee women who reported experiencing physical violence identified their husband/partners as the perpetrators.

This brief provides a snapshot of child protection interventions by UNHCR and its partners during the pandemic, covering community engagement, case management, alternative care and capacity building. In addition to working with children and communities, UNHCR also engages with authorities through policy advocacy in the context of COVID-19, such as to end immigration detention of children.