‘Look out for online bullies, child predators’ 

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– ChildLink urges parents to be more vigilant during pandemic 

By Lisa Hamilton  

As a result of COVID-19, more children are using the internet and may be exposed to bullying or child predators. More children are also at home or in the company of persons designated to look after them and can be exposed to abuse.

In an interview with the Village Voice News, ChildLink Guyana — a Non-Profit Organisation (NGO) that caters to the protection of children — urged parents to remain alert of their child’s online and at-home activities. ChildLink is concerned about the increased vulnerabilities of cyberbullying among children and children living in abusive households.

In Guyana, most children are receiving formal education via online platforms such as Zoom and Google Classroom. Teachers also use social media platforms such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger to send assignments and answer questions. It is almost mandatory now for children to spend more time online, save for those without internet access. Asked what parents or guardians can do to protect their children from online bullying, child predators and unsafe websites, ChildLink encouraged: “Parents can pair their devices to that of their children in order to manage or observe what children are viewing online. Also, parents can block or activate the parent feature offered on the various websites.”

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The NGO’s Family Counselors also encouraged parents to increase bonding time with their children by watching movies for which they can monitor the content.

BE WARY OF CAREGIVERS 

Meanwhile, for some parents, it is difficult to manage their child or children being home due to schools being closed while they also have the responsibility to go to work. Many parents have therefore turned to relatives, friends or hired persons to look after their children while away. ChildLink said that there are several important factors that parents should be aware of before entrusting their child within the care of another person.

It said parents should be knowledgeable of the number of persons within the household in which their child is staying in and know the names, contact information and physical address of the said location before the child is placed in that person’s care. Parents should also inquire whether the designated guardian has a criminal record of child abuse or child endangerment. Information about who is the secondary caregiver in cases where the primary caregiver has an emergency should also be gathered.

Apart from this, ChildLink urged parents to be observant of their child or children’s body language and to inquire of them whether conversations or initiation have been made towards them by the designated guardian or anyone else. “Parents should engage their child or children in regular conversation about the daily activities in the household where the child is being placed. Parents should create a safe space where children can reveal or share thoughts and feelings regarding inappropriate behaviour,” ChildLink’s Family Counselors advised.

Coupled with these measures should be the practice of checking the physical appearance, private parts and changes in their child’s mood.

SEEK HELP 

According to a UNICEF Report on protecting children from violence, abuse and neglect during COVID-19, the pandemic has increased the risk of harm to children who are already trapped in abusive and neglectful situations. “They can also increase the potential for over-stressed caregivers to become violent or abusive. These new stresses are occurring at a time when children are less visible to individuals and professionals who are normally engaged in their protection, and child and family welfare services are overstretched and disrupted,” the report stated.

Meanwhile, ChildLink urges that persons aware of cases where children are being abused or facing threats online, to report such cases to the Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA) Hotline department at +592-227-0979 where calls remain anonymous. The Ministry of Education under the Schools Welfare Department can also provide assistance.

LOOK OUT FOR CHILD LABOUR 

Another aspect affecting children as a result of the pandemic is their greater exposure to child labour due to being away from the physical school setting. A new brief from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has reported that child labour had decreased by 94 million since 2000 but this gain is now at risk.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions more children are at risk of being pushed into child labour which could lead to the first rise in child labour after 20 years of positive progress. Persons with information about child labour cases in Guyana can contact the CPA, the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Labour. Asked what word of advice ChildLink would give to authorities in cases where less fortunate families cannot afford internet connection or television access for their child’s education during the pandemic, the NGO’s Family Counselors said:

“It is advised that the Ministry of Education assign a Task Force or officers that can deliver handbooks directly to homes. This will facilitate a database for the number of children within the school system and the number of children that are having difficulty learning or a lack of assistance at home.”

As parents, local authorities and children seek to manoeuvre the new ways in which education is being provided during the global health crisis, the NGO urged parents to do their best to teach children life skills, improve their time spent with them and keep alert about possible instances of online bullying, online child predators and caregivers with ulterior motives.



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