Orphaned, Abused, Exploited: The Coronavirus Threat to Children  

Children could be the biggest victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the fact that the disease affects mostly older people, according to human rights groups.  It is estimated that 1.5 billion children worldwide are missing school. The outbreak is having myriad other impacts on young people, with hundreds of thousands orphaned by the disease that the coronavirus causes.  “More and more children are going to be left without parents,” said Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch. “We’ve seen from the Ebola crisis, for example, the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, that when children are orphaned, they become much more vulnerable to sex trafficking, to child labor and other forms of exploitation.” A recent report from the International Labor Organization warned that 200 million people could lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic.  “As parents lose their employment, especially in developing countries, we often see more and more children pushed into child labor to try and help families just meet their basic needs,” Becker said. “And correspondingly, there’s also a trend towards early and child marriage, with girls feeling the pressure to marry to get out of the house and relieve the pressure on their parents.”  The most vulnerable are feeling the effects first. Many charities report that children living on the streets are struggling to find food and shelter amid the outbreak.  In rich countries, poorer children are missing out on school lunches, which is often their one big meal of the day. “It’s a bit tough right now, considering we don’t really have work to get food,” said 17-year-old student Raylyn Riviera, who was among dozens of people lining up for free food outside a New York high school this week. “So, we have to make do with what we have.” Elsewhere, with Russia in lockdown, activists there report a big spike in domestic violence. Becker said it is a pattern repeated in many countries. “As parents become anxious about their health, about their finances, about their jobs, and as tensions rise as people are together 24/7, the risk of violence really escalates,” she said. There are also concerns that children are missing out on vital immunization programs as health systems prioritize coronavirus patients. Human Rights Watch is urging governments to put children at the center of their coronavirus response policies, with greater efforts to expand access to education and provide economic assistance to vulnerable families. 

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