Irrespective of the pandemic, children from all social classes are affected by various forms of violence. But poverty and cramped living conditions particularly trigger tension and conflict where there is suddenly no other alternative. It is safe to assume that, in many families and institutions, violence will increase the longer the pandemic continues.
Protection against violence and exploitation is a central right for children, and exists as Sustainable Development Goal 16.2. While there is not yet any proof that physical, emotional and sexual violence and neglect of children has increased during the pandemic, initial indications already exist in the form of higher numbers of calls to the ‘Nummer gegen Kummer’ helpline and the ‘Medizinische Kinderschutzhotline’ children’s medical hotline. The full extent cannot be ascertained purely from the times that children and adolescents remain at home for infection-control reasons, because some of the reports of risks to child wellbeing through violence and abuse come from day-care centres and schools.
Although there is still very little documentation available for Germany, EUROPOL indicates that, during the contact restrictions between March and May 2020, there was a significant increase in activities on the clear web and dark net relating to sexual exploitation of children online. This particularly applies to intensified trading of child-abuse images through peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, exchanges by perpetrators in relevant dark-net forums relating to cybergrooming and abuse strategies, and livestreaming of child sex abuse.
The more time children spend online unsupervised due to school closures, the greater the risk of self-made ‘sexting’ images being created and circulated amongst minors. EUROPOL expects there to be a sharp rise in the quantities of these images over the next year, which could also lead to corresponding rise in the recruitment and exploitation of minors online.
- The National Coalition Germany recommends that the UN Committee call on the German federal government to
- 01. Ensure child-protection systems are well staffed and funded, particularly during times of crisis, and to not shift the focus away from child protection, e.g. through pandemic-induced savings programmes, even later on.
- 02. Work with the state governments to further sustain child and youth support as the crucial backbone of a functioning society, and to also take into account the non-government sector in order to maintain existing support services.
- 03. Inform children, adolescents and adults how they can access the child-protection system, particularly during times of crisis.
- 04. Ensure children and adolescents are protected against digital violence and exploitation, particularly during times of pandemic.