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Child Protection Risks During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Discover the children who are vulnerable and the protection risks during COVID -19.
Young girl peering out of a window
© Unsplash / Sharon McCutcheon

As a result of circumstances related to COVID-19, there may be increasing child protection risks. This includes reports being made in different countries of heightened domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, and exploitation, family separation, and psychosocial distress.

It is essential we advocate with governments and other national and local authorities to highlight how ongoing protection of children is vital and should be part of government COVID-19 response plans. This includes ongoing child protection case management and, when necessary, face-to-face visits with children facing the most urgent/life-threatening situations.

Children Who are Particularly Vulnerable

  • Any child at risk of, or exposed to, any form of violence – including domestic violence and sexual and gender-based violence
  • Children exposed to all forms of exploitation – including the worst forms of child labour, trafficking and sexual exploitation
  • Displaced children – including those exposed to additional vulnerability if not provided access to child-sensitive asylum procedures
  • Children separated, or at risk of being separated, from their primary caregivers
  • Children in detention – including those in immigration detention
  • Street connected children
  • Child-headed households
  • Children with disabilities
  • Children associated with armed forces or groups, or involved in armed violence such as gangs
  • Children without appropriate documentation including birth registration
  • Children at risk of online exploitation
  • Children living with or affected by, HIV and AIDS, and children suffering from other serious diseases
  • Married children, children at risk of child marriage, and children who are pregnant
  • Children with diverse gender identity and/or expression
  • Children living in institutional settings that have been rapidly closed and, as a result, returned to families and communities without due preparation
  • Children at risk of losing other forms of alternative care placements
  • Children in alternative care are confined in large groups in institutional settings where infection can easily spread. These children are also noted to be at considerable risk of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Also children with disabilities in institutional care settings who, due to specific pre-existing conditions or impairments, including immune deficiencies, may be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and being more severely affected by it
  • Children and young people who have transitioned out of alternative care into semi-independent or independent living are now at heightened risk of isolation and separation from peers whilst also lacking access to financial and other forms of support for their daily needs
  • Children who experience stigma and social discrimination
  • Children who have survived the disease but may be rejected by their family or community.

Throughout the course, we will be referring to ‘caregivers’. This includes parents or other adult/s who by law or custom are responsible for caring for a child – their legal or customary caregiver. The phrase ‘by law’ recognises that some children are looked after by a person who is not their parent but has been given the responsibility of care through a legal procedure. In some countries, alternative care providers may have been given the responsibility of care through a statutory administrative procedure. In an inter-agency publication providing guidance for alternative care in emergencies, a ‘customary’ caregiver has been defined as ‘someone that the community has accepted, either by tradition or common practice, to provide the daily care, protection and supervision of a child’ but have not been given this responsibility through any legal procedure’.


Review if there are other children who are facing protection risks in the communities you serve which have been made worse as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Please also be mindful of confidentiality and the right to privacy of other people.

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COVID-19: Adapting Child Protection Case Management

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