(LONDON:) Millions of children, particularly girls, are at grave risk of harm as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to devastate their education and health and leave them at risk of abuse, warns Plan International.
The global child rights and humanitarian organisation has launched its largest appeal to date to raise €100 million to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable children and their communities from the impacts of COVID-19.
The unprecedented global health emergency is disrupting the lives of children and young people everywhere. Quarantine measures imposed as a response to pandemic are putting children at heightened risk of violence in the home and cutting them off from education, essential protection services and vital support.
Plan International’s response, covering at least 50 countries, will specifically focus on assisting girls, who are disproportionately affected by the crisis.
“Girls and women are at risk of being the invisible catastrophe of this pandemic. Our experience shows they are particularly hard hit in emergencies. We are already receiving reports of a significant increase in violence and child marriage affecting adolescent girls in communities where we work. Girls are telling us they are terrified,” said Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO Plan International.
“I never thought I would have to live through something like this. We need to take care of ourselves,” said Amelia, 16, from the Dominican Republic.
“The financial impact of the pandemic is huge. Some parents are marrying off their daughters,” said Astar, 18, from Senegal.
“Trillions have been allocated to combat the pandemic and save the global economy, but the vital needs of children have been overlooked. It’s worst in countries with already fragile support systems where resources have been diverted to combat the pandemic. If we don’t act millions of children – particularly girls – will become victims of violence and abuse in their homes and communities - with lifelong consequences,” said Ms Albrectsen.
An estimated 740 million girls have been forced out of education due to the pandemic. Plan International is warning that parental pressure to help at home or earn an income mean many adolescent girls will be unable to return to school. They will become vulnerable and isolated without the support they need.
The profound economic impact will hit families, leading to an increase in sexual violence, teen pregnancy and child marriage, as well as trafficking and child labour.
The organisation will also work to prevent transmission of COVID-19 in vulnerable communities – particularly in refugee camps and among displaced populations - where the risks to girls and young women are particularly high. The organisation will draw upon its experience of responding to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014.
Plan International will:
- scale up its child friendly multimedia COVID-19 awareness campaign to promote hygiene and handwashing in communities worldwide
- support remote education for children, including virtual learning and supply of home-based learning material, by working with education ministries and other partners
- promote social protection schemes such as safe shelters and helplines to report violence for vulnerable girls and women
- ensure access to menstrual hygiene supplies and age-appropriate health information for adolescent girls
- provide cash support to at least 100,000 vulnerable households to address loss of livelihoods
The organisation will work with teachers, parents, health care providers and partners to ensure children, particularly adolescent girls, get the support they need during this crisis.
Donate to Plan International’s COVID-19 appeal and find out more about our response here.
(Plan International experts are available for media interviews)