A non-governmental organisation, Save the Children International Nigeria, has raised concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic could turn into a serious child rights crisis in the country, as hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable children could be exposed to a dangerous mix of extreme poverty, malnutrition and hunger as a result of the virus.
The socioeconomic impact of the pandemic will push many poor households to turn to desperate measures just to survive, the group said in a statement Wednesday, adding that children could face an increased risk of child labour, sexual exploitation, or child marriage, as families struggle to feed.
“As the numbers of COVID-19 cases rise in Nigeria, and the virus is spreading to different states, we are working hard to mitigate the negative impact this will have on the most vulnerable children, especially in fragile communities,” said Mercy Gichuhi, the Acting Country Director, Save the Children International Nigeria.
“Children are seriously affected when parents and caregivers are infected by the virus and taken away for care. We are working closely with the government to support efforts to contain the virus and keep children safe and protected amid the pandemic.”
Save the Children urged Nigerian authorities to scale up social protection measures such as cash and food assistance for the most vulnerable children and families, to urgently mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
Despite being a low-risk group to contract coronavirus, between 42-66 million children could experience extreme poverty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a UN report released last week.
Ibrahim Maharazu, Speaker, Katsina State Children’s Parliament, said coronavirus is threatening their right to protection, education and healthy life.
“I can see a possible increase in child abuse as children from poor households might go to rich people in the community for food. They may be emotionally, physically or sexually exploited in exchange for food and financial support.
“There are people who take advantage of the poor families and the pandemic. This is very bad for children and it can have a long-lasting impact on them. The government should hold such perpetrators accountable.”
Save the Children said it would work with all stakeholders towards better accessible social protection services to reach the most vulnerable people – including through the scaling up and reform of existing social protection and livelihood programmes.
The group further urged the government to provide appropriate care and protection for children, including children who are orphaned or left without proper care because their caregivers are in hospital because of the virus. Through existing social safety net programs, it said, the government should also provide immediate income and livelihood support to vulnerable families, to reduce the risk of people taking desperate measures that would put children, particularly girls, at risk.
“We must act now and rapidly scale up support for children whose families’ income is insecure and live in fragile communities,” said Ms Gichuhi.
“There is a need for increased protection for children, especially girls, displaced children, and other vulnerable groups. Our collective efforts and sustainable actions in responding to the pandemic should ensure that no child is left behind, vulnerable or unprotected.”
Purity Oriaifo, girl champion, Save the Children International Nigeria, said COVID-19 has affected children’s ways of living and disrupted their routines – including
school attendance and raising an income.
“I know children whose parents are petty traders who find it difficult to get proper food these days,” said Ms Oriaifo, 14.
“They may not be able to afford even one meal per day. These families live from day to day, they don’t have food stocks or savings to depend on.
“Therefore, the government needs to provide financial assistance or sufficient foodstuffs – ensuring that assistance reaches the people now. This will reduce the risk of exploitation, domestic violence and abuse of children, especially the girls.”