COVID-19: Quarantine when home isn’t safe for children

25 MARCH 2020

Countries and homes are on lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. What happens when home isn’t a safe space?

Wherever we are in the world, we are all living the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Coronavirus is a public health challenge for the entire global population. More and more countries are shutting down to prevent the spread of the virus. Employees are working remotely if they can, cinemas are shut, shops are closed. Children are stuck at home with no school to attend and all recreational activities in clubs, sports halls and gyms cancelled. 

Stay at home. That’s the recommendation.

Home is where you should feel safe. Being at home means, above all else, being in a place that is dear to you. It should mean protection. But for many children and adolescents, home is a place of violence.

Gender-based violence in Brazil

In Brazil, three girls under the age of 18 are victims of sexual violence every hour. Every four hours it happens to a 13 year old girl. 

The Brazilian Public Security Forum estimates there are around 500,000 cases of sexual violence per year and only 10% are reported. 

Studies show most victims are raped by someone they know. The violence occurs inside the home, in the family. 

Coronavirus protection measures which isolate children and adolescents can have significant repercussions that must be addressed.

When home isn’t a safe space

Girls and young women kept at home are safer from disease but face increased intrafamily tensions and an overload of domestic work. Girls who are often considered to be adults in miniature, experience from a very early age the negative social norms that demand they do the cleaning, cooking and child-care. 

Quarantine measures must be implemented in a way that guarantees protection

Confinement to the home increases tensions that can promote the breakdown of an already weakened family dynamic and bring serious risks of violence. There are countless cases where children and adolescents are removed from situations of violence at home only after it is spotted through interactions with the school, through consultations with basic health clinics, visits by health professionals and the projects and socio-educational activities promoted by civil society organizations. 

Sometimes, adults notice the indicators of violence. Other times, it is children and adolescents who, feeling safe in the spaces and relationships outside the home, indicate that violence is happening to them in the family space. 

Quarantine will keep children away from the extrafamilial spaces and relationships that are essential for recognising and preventing continual cycles of violence at home. 

Upholding girls’ right to a life free of violence

While quarantine measures are necessary to reduce the spread of the virus, they should be implemented in a way that guarantees protection for children and adolescents. 

Measures should be in place so teachers can stay in contact with pupils. Risk factors should be identified and special care, including health visits, should be in place for those who are particularly vulnerable, such as the very poor, the disabled and those living in care. 

In Brazil the state guarantees the right to a life free of violence (Article 227 of the Brazil Federal Constitution). Globally, children have a right to be safe from violence under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Children, especially girls, have an increased risk of violence during times of crisis. Together we must fulfill our duty to children to protect them from acts of violence, whether we are teachers, care-workers or NGOs. Wherever we are in the world.