THE Save the Children International says it is extremely concerned that the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic could turn into a serious child rights crisis in Nigeria.
The humanitarian organisation expressed worry that 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, said Mercy Gichuhi, the acting Country Director, Save the Children International Nigeria.
This was contained in a press statement issued in Abuja on Thursday by Amanuel Mamo, Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, Save the Children International, Nigeria.
Gichuhi stated that children could face increased risk of child labour or sexual exploitation or of child marriage, as families struggle to feed their families.
The organisation, according to her, urged the Nigerian government to scale up social protection measures such as provision of cash and food assistance for the most vulnerable children and families, to urgently mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
“As the numbers of COVID-19 cases rise in Nigeria to 782, 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,”Gichuhi said.
“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.”
Also in the statement, Ibrahim Maharazu, Speaker, Katsina State Children’s Parliament, said: “The Corona virus is threatening our right to participation, 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.”
The acting Country Director added that Save the Children 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.
She said that the organisation 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, Gichuhi noted that 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. 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”, explained Gichuhi.
Maryam Ahmed, Youth Ambassador, Save the Children International Nigeria, said: “It is important that children and other marginalized groups are not excluded in Covid-19 response activities They should be safe, and also consulted on proper education and protection measures to be in place.”
Purity Oriaifo, 14, Girl Champion, Save the Children International Nigeria, said: “COVID-19 is a disaster. It has affected our ways of living and disrupted our 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.
“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.”
Save the Children welcomes the government’s efforts to carry out several awareness programmes to educate the public about the coronavirus and preventive measures.
The organisation said called upon all government stakeholders at national and subnational level to ensure that children’s voices are heard, and they are at the centre of the COVID-19 preparedness, response, prevention and control plans.