Child Helpline Services and the COVID-19 Outbreak

The coronavirus pandemic is sending more and more countries around the world into lockdown. Although cases have now seemingly peaked in China, where it was first recorded, numbers continue to rise around the world. Some countries are now extending their lockdown periods, and more and more are recording their first cases and taking action to stop the virus from spreading further.

Child helplines have become increasingly important in responding to children and young people, who are facing considerable anxiety in uncertain times. When children and young people are faced with frightening news that is challenging to fully understand, they can turn to child helplines for the advice and information they may not be able to easily get from their parents or peers.

In addition, lockdowns around the globe – the effects of which are wide-ranging and already being well reported – are in many cases also putting children and young people already at risk of violence and abuse in even more dangerous situations, as their movements are restricted and their contact with the outside world diminishes. For these children and young people, child helpline services can provide invaluable support, and a means to ensure that essential help can be given where necessary.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Child Helpline International is the international network of child helplines, with members in 142 countries and territories around the world, all of whom are dealing with the increased demand for their services at this unprecedented time. To strengthen these services and reduce the risk of violence against children during the COVID-19 crisis, Child Helpline International recommends that:

 

Governments should:

1. Ensure the continued functioning of child helplines, and other child-friendly reporting mechanisms, to enable child-friendly counselling, reporting and response mechanisms.

2. Expand financial support and resources for national child helplines to increase their ability to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and ensure the continuity of their services.

3. Raise awareness of child helpline services in COVID-19 responses and communications

4. Inform children, young people and their families of the measures being undertaken to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, in order to reduce stress and anxiety. This should include child-friendly information on how to protect themselves and others, and how to recognise the symptoms should they become infected. These child-friendly materials may be distributed through school curriculum, TV, radio, and social media channels. As part of information sharing and messaging to prevent and deal with the epidemic, governments should also provide parents with online positive parenting materials to help equip them to deal with the crisis and support their children.

5. Child protection systems must be integrated into disease control measures in alignment with the Technical Note on Protection of Children during the COVID-19 Pandemic developed by the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action.

 

Mobile operators, ICTs and social media platforms should:

1. Provide and maintain support for child helpline services to ensure continuity of services by ensuring toll-free access to child helplines from all operators.

2. Collaborate with child helplines to establish remote working for child helpline counsellors.

3. IT companies especially should strengthen measures to protect children from all forms of violence, including bullying and sexual exploitation. This may include strengthening mechanisms to monitor and prevent online violence and exploitation, supporting emergency helplines and hotlines to continue their work online, as well as creating safe online spaces for children to interact and learn how to protect themselves.

 

Donors should:

1. Maintain or scale up investments in child helpline services and encourage governments and other stakeholders to integrate awareness raising of child helpline services and the ways to contact them in their child protection interventions and into their response measures.