The SOS Enfants humanitarian organisation has warned of a significant increase in child abuse cases as the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis worsens already precarious situations.
“We’re sending out a distress call today,” SOS Enfants said in a press release. “Many SOS Enfants teams face an increase in reports of abused children. Completely swamped, we are obliged to refer these reporters – family members or professionals – to a psycho-social care network that is itself already overwhelmed. (…) This situation is intolerable for the caregivers that we are.”
With the network paralysed, the teams say they are no longer able to adequately fulfil their mission and take care of the traumatised children and families.
“In certain regions, the requests are shooting up,” SOS Enfants said, noting a 50% increase at SOS Charleroi and a 45% increase at SOS Liège-Montlégia in the first quarter of 2021.
In recent months, the situation of child victims has worsened “dramatically” since the time it takes for mental health and education services to intervene following abuse reports has increased significantly. This is compounded by a shortage of space in emergency host families and shelters, SOS Enfants added.
The organisation’s teams note that the closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic has had a direct impact on child abuse. “The child can no longer speak to anyone about the violence to which it has been subjected and is deprived of a primordial place of learning and socialisation,” SOS-Enfants noted.
Newborns in danger have also become invisible because the National Office for Child Affairs has limited house visits by its employees.
SOS Enfants stresses that these children must be “made visible” by reopening schools, sports and entertainment centres, frontline educational and psycho-medico-social centres, etc., which serve as radars. Youth support services also need to be fully available. “We are all essential professions and telecommuting should not apply here,” SOS Enfants argued.
The teams also want an extraordinary budget to cover additional staff.
They are calling for consultations with the ministers in charge of infants, youth support and health to rethink the fight against child abuse in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, SOS Enfants said.