Mitigating Harm: Reaching Survivors of Abuse during COVID-19

January 25th, 2022 | Stories

Research shows that global child abuse including child sexual abuse has increased in alarming numbers since the onset of COVID-19 and the family stressors and burdens associated with the pandemic. 

In Uganda there has been a rise in reports of physical and sexual abuse against children since the implementation of the COVID-19 lockdown. Yet, there has been a significant drop in reported cases of sexual abuse: the national child helpline recorded just 356 cases between May-August 2021, as compared to 1,208 cases in the same period in 2020. 

World Education’s Western Uganda Bantwana Program (WUBP) data suggests a slight decline in overall child sexual abuse incidence (324 cases in 2020, and 302 in 2021), which may reflect the success of our community-based investments in preventing and mitigating abuse, or it may be that cases are simply going unreported. Having worked at in communities on these issues for over 10 years, we recognize that the COVID-19 lockdown has distanced community members and active bystanders, and disrupted common channels of reporting child abuse such as through schools, friends, and places of worship.

With numerous lockdowns in place across the last two years, we have pivoted some of our approaches, working with community resource persons to identify children and respond to cases of abuse. Yet, while we have been able to continue delivering violence prevention and response programming, there is still a need to further build capacity at the community level to respond to the psychosocial needs of child survivors of abuse—particularly during lockdowns—and link survivors to professional counselling.

WUBP partnered with Bishop Magambo Training Institute (BMTI) to train community resource persons to provide post-abuse psychosocial support to child survivors and their families. Alongside BMTI, we have built the capacity of 49 teachers and 20 parasocial workers to work as first-line responders to the needs of children through identification, assessment and referrals. Between October and December 2021, 63 child abuse survivors accessed professional counselling and were linked to other support services through referral pathways.

These services mitigated harm, especially to child survivors and those at high risk of abuse.  Of these 63 children, 8 who were reported to have had suicidal thoughts and depression were supported to minimize suicidal behavior.

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