“The situation is very hostile. Because of the long confinement at home, the victims are locked down together with their abusers. This makes the victims more prone to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.”
By REIN TARINAY
MANILA — Statistics show that children are less vulnerable to COVID-19 but more than the virus, they are not spared to a more dangerous ‘social disease.’
In an online forum led by Task Force Children of the Storms last Friday, child rights group highlighted the alarming situation of domestic violence among children amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Niki Aserios, deputy director of Children’s Rehabilitation Center expressed that the economic stress brought by the pandemic increases the risk of domestic violence.
Aserios highlighted that the lack of socialization with peers tends to divert the children’s attention to an online platform which may cause danger of being subject to cyberbullying, online, and offline sexual abuse.
“Because of the social confinement, children tend to use online platform. Longer screen time means a longer chance of exploration to different sites. As different platform emerges in the virtual world, it gives the children the idea to create their own identity outside of reality. In some instances, this is where sexual predators prey among these children,” Aserios said.
In the Philippines, one in three internet users is children. This makes Filipino children more prone to online sexual exploitation.
Online sexual exploitation on children (OSEC), by definition, refers to production, online publication, and consumption of photos, videos, and live streams of the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and Filipino children are ideal targets of sexual predators online.
Loyz Suamen of Child Rights Network discussed the effects of OSEC on a child victim: depression, social isolation, and withdrawal, feelings of anger and worthlessness, trauma, difficulty to form healthy relationships, difficulty to lead a meaningful life, suicide attempts, and death.
Psychological and social effects of quarantine
Meanwhile, children experiencing mistreatment for violation of quarantine protocols may develop mental health problems, self-esteem issues as an effect of public shaming, according to Aserios. Aside from the stress of not being able to go outside freely, the unjust punishment for violating the curfew hours and other quarantine guidelines makes children more vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health concerns, said Aserios.
Aserios also highlighted that in the time of the pandemic, it is difficult for children to accept the sudden changes in their daily routine. This can be a source of stress and can be a triggering factor in the children’s mental health.
Child rights groups called on government to uphold and respect children’s rights at all times and implement child-friendly protocols and guidelines in handling children at risk and those who violated ECQ protocols.
They also demand sustainable public information dissemination on COVID-19 and ways to combat it using child-friendly materials.
The groups also said government should provide mechanisms for information sharing about gender-based violence and strengthen the existing laws protecting children and women.