Yangyel Lhaden

“Women and children are disproportionately affected by health emergencies such as Covid-19 or any other crisis and humanitarian situation due to their differential needs, power and capabilities.”

This is according to The National Commission for women and Children’s (NCWC) Gender-based Violence (GBV) and Child Protection Emergency Preparedness and Response during Covid-19 pandemic plan.

NCWC recorded 47 domestic violence cases between January and April; total cases for 2019 was 77. The latest record with Respect, Educate, Nurture, and Empower Women (RENEW) shows that between January and July this year, it received 407 domestic violence cases. It recorded only 118 cases in entire 2019.

The plan states that the measures used to prevent and control the spread of Covid-19 such as home-based, facility-based quarantine and isolation measures could expose children to protection risks if proper measures are not put in place.

Need to strengthen family and caregiving environments

Children whose caregivers fall ill or is quarantined, hospitalised or pass away are at higher risk of being left without protection and care. Children are left unattended and unsupervised at home and children under quarantine and treatment may be deprived of parental care.

The plan suggests collaboration among relevant stakeholders such as Ministry of Heath (MoH) to strengthen identification and referral of child protection cases to safe alternative care and should be prepared to deal with emergencies such as quarantine and hospitalisation. Stakeholders should ensure efficient family tracing mechanism in case of family separation or loss of primary givers.

This will, among others, entail reviewing standard operating procedures on quarantine to include referral of children who have been separated from their parents and caregivers, creating opportunities to support routine contacts between children and family members who are physically separated. The plan recommends training frontliners to be child-sensitive and responsive in cases where a child is separated from parents and caregivers.

Protection from violence, abuse and exploitation

According to the plan document, children whose family members fall ill are likely to be stigmatised and socially excluded. As household tension increases, domestic violence, corporal punishment, and other forms of abuse against children could happen during restriction of movement and Covid-19 situation. Sexual harassment, exploitation and neglect could lead to children dropping out of school.

Training frontliners and social workers is seen as an effective way to achieve early identification and safe referral through phone calls or home visits. The plan suggests developing and implementing guidelines for the provision of remote child protection management, provision of remote psychological support for parents and caregivers by counsellors, among others.

Mental health and psychological support (MHPSS) for children, adolescents and caregivers

Taking into account the impact of Covid-19 on children, they could feel scared, isolated and experience discomfort, the plan recommends collaboration among the relevant agencies to provide online or remote support, map MHPSS actors and establish a referral mechanism for children and families. Disseminating key messages, including positive coping mechanism on MHPSS through social media, is seen as critically important intervention.

Gender-based violence

The plan states that isolation is difficult and affects the individuals physically and mentally. Hence, of all forms of gender-based violence could increase. Victims usually sought help when the abusers were away from home. With people being mostly at home, it provides less chance for victims to run away or seek help.

To prevent gender-based violence, the plan recommends the relevant stakeholders to create awareness on GBV through mainstream and social media platforms; training frontliners on sexual violence, GBV response, and safe referral psychosocial first aid; and increasing support to the shelters.

It is so incumbent on the stakeholders, according to the plan, to ensure that sexual and reproductive health needs for women and girls in quarantine be provided, create awareness on menstrual hygiene, and strengthen advocacy to continue provision of services to women and girls requiring services.

The plan’s focus, among others, is on to developing advocacy materials on the importance of sharing household chores and care responsibilities through various means.