First Do No Harm

First Do No Harm

“Lockdowns have just one consequence that you must never ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer.”  Dr David Nabarro, World Health Organisation 

“This war, and I think it is reasonable to call it a war, against this virus, which is going to go on for the foreseeable future, is not going to be won by creating tougher and tougher riles that attempt to control people’s behaviour. The only way that we will come out ahead of this virus is if we are all able to do the right thing in the right place at the right time, because we choose to do it.” Dr David Nabarro, World Health Organisation

The UN reports “we are just beginning to fully understand the damage done to children because of their increased exposure to violence during pandemic lockdowns, said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.”

UNICEF, October 2020, reports “Lockdowns and shelter in place measures come with a heightened risk of children witnessing or suffering violence and abuse and can also expose children to new protection risks. When it comes to violence, a number of factors related to confinement measures are likely to result in increased risk for children including heightened tensions in the household, added stressors placed on caregivers, economic uncertainty, job loss or disruption to livelihoods, and social isolation. Children may also increasingly witness intimate partner violence.”

Statistics during lockdown:

Oxfam identified that border closures, curfews and travel restrictions had caused breaks in the food supply that threatened to cause 12 000 deaths a day worldwide, exceeding the 10 000 deaths a day recorded from COVID-19 in April 2020. 

The Trussell Trust, Stop UK Hunger, reported an 89% increase in need for emergency food parcels in April 2020 compared to the same month last year.  At the end of April, 350 000 children were living in a household where someone had been forced to skip a meal in the last week and 249 000 were in families that accessed food-banks.  Only 47% of children who would usually be receiving Free School Meal scheme food were provided either meals or vouchers.

Young Minds, Survey, Summer 2020, reports “80% of respondents agreed that the corona virus pandemic had made their mental health worse; 41% said it had made their mental health ‘much worse’, up from 32% in the previous survey in March. This was often related to increased feelings of anxiety, isolation, a loss of coping mechanisms or a loss of motivation.  87% of respondents agreed that they had felt lonely or isolated during the lockdown period, even though 71% had been able to stay in touch with friends.  31% said they were no longer able to access support but still needed it.  Of those who had not been accessing support immediately before the crisis, 40% said that they had not looked for support but were struggling with their mental health.  11% of respondents said that their mental health had improved during the crisis, an increase from 6% in the previous survey. This was often because they felt it was beneficial to be away from the pressures of their normal life (e.g. bullying or academic pressure at school).” 

MIND, June 2020, reports “Two thirds (65%) of adults and three quarters (75%) of young people with experience of mental health problems said their mental health has gotten worse during lockdown.  Over half of adults (51%) and young people (55%) without experience of mental health problems also said their mental health has got worse during this period.  Young people are more than twice as likely as adults to have used self-harm as a coping strategy (28% of young people vs 11% of adults).  Nearly a third (30%) of under-18s self-harmed to cope, with this rising to over a third (36%) of 16 and 17 year olds.  One in three young people (33%) with experience of mental health problems self-harmed to cope during lockdown.”

Samaritans report “In a survey of over 70,000 adults in the UK just over 1 in 10 reported experiencing suicidal thoughts or thoughts of hurting themselves during the first week of lockdown.  2% reported to have self-harmed or attempted suicide during the first week of lockdown.”

The National Child Mortality Database (NCMD), England, July 2020, reports “In 2020, during the 82 days before lockdown, there were 26 likely child suicides and a further 25 in the first 56 days of lockdown, and the proportion of cases under 15 years of age appeared higher, but these differences did not reach statistical significance.  In 12 (48%) of the 25 post-lockdown deaths, factors related to COVID-19 or lockdown were thought to have contributed to the deaths.”  

MIND, June 2020, reports “A third (32%) of adults and over a quarter (28%) of young people did not seek mental health support during lockdown as they did not think that their issue was serious enough.  More than 1 in 6 (18%) of adults and a quarter (25%) of young people tried to seek help during lockdown, and 1 in 4 (24%) of adults and more than 1 in 4 (28%) of young people were then not able to access the mental health support that they sought.  6% of adults and 9% of young people did not seek mental health support as they were not sure how to do so. This rises slightly to 10% of 18–24 year olds, making them almost twice as likely as over-25s to not have accessed support because they did not know how to.”

Research and analysis, UK GOV, 15 October 2020:  “Of those reporting that they had a worsening health condition during the week leading up to 10 August, around 50% reported that they have not sought advice for their condition.  The most common reason for not doing so was to avoid putting pressure on the NHS.”

 Statistics illustrating significantly increased figures relating to at risk behaviour and child abuse (please know child abuse statistics are likely much higher than reported due to various factors):

Calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline increased by 80% in June 2020, while the number of people seeking help from Alcohol Change UK for problem drinking increased nearly 400% from 4089 between 23 March and 30 April last year to 20 067 in the same period this year. 

NSPCC:  Child abuse statistics pre-lockdown 30-day average, 6 Jan-22 March 2020 = 1 325, compared to lockdown 30-day average, 1-31 May 2020 = 1 730 (30% overall increase) 

Physical abuse = 420 vs 559  (33% increase) 

Emotional abuse = 303 vs 500  (65% increase)

Neglect = 30 vs 44  (46% increase)

Sexual abuse = 572 vs 627  (9.6% increase) 

The NSPCC helpline reports a 60% increase in contacts from people with concerns regarding children experiencing online sexual abuse.

Childline reports an 11% increase in the number of counselling sessions regarding online sexual abuse since the stay-at-home guidance was issued.

Between January and June 2020, the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) received 12.1 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation, an increase of 90% from 6.3 million reports during the same time period a year earlier.  

The Internet Watch Foundation and its partners blocked at least 8.8 million attempts by UK internet users to access videos and images of child sexual abuse during lockdown.

Baseline statistics for child abuse before the pandemic (please know child abuse statistics are likely much higher than reported due to various factors): 

Globally, it is estimated that up to 1 billion children aged 2–17 years, have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence or neglect in the past year.  WHO

1 in 2 children aged 2-17 years suffered violence in the past year, 12% of children were physically abused in the past year.  WHO

Nearly 3 in 4 children or 300 million children aged 2–4 years regularly suffer physical punishment and/or psychological violence at the hands of parents and caregivers.  WHO

Every year, there are an estimated 40 150 homicide deaths in children under 18 years of age, some of which are likely due to child maltreatment.  WHO

Figures relating to the UK:

The WHO reports before the pandemic 2.2 million children in England alone lived with domestic abuse, parental drug or alcohol dependency and/or severe parental mental illness.  Just over 100 000 children in England lived in a household where all three issues were present.  Estimates by CCO show that 379 000 under-fives live with parents suffering from severe mental ill health, and 145 000 are living with parents suffering drug and alcohol problems.  It is estimated that 235 000 under-fives live in houses where domestic violence has taken place in the last year.  

As previously stated, and reported by England’s Children’s Commissioner, risk to children has increased 80-400% during lockdown in this context.  

In the last five years there was an average of 62 child deaths a year by assault or undetermined intent in the UK.  On average, at least one child is killed per week in the UK.  Children under the age of one are the most likely age group to be killed by another person, followed by 16- to 24-year-olds.  Child homicides are most commonly caused by the child’s parent or step-parent; whilst adolescent homicides are most commonly caused by a stranger, friend or acquaintance.  Official measures are likely to be underestimated. NSPCC 

New figures obtained reveal that police recorded more than 200 child sex offences, on average, every day last year.  There were 73,518 recorded offences including rape, online grooming and sexual assault against children in the UK in 2019/20, up 57% in the 5 years since 2014/15. Where gender and age were recorded girls were 4 times as likely to be victims, there were more than 8,000 offences committed against 14-year-olds, making it the most common age group to report offences, there were 12,374 sex crimes recorded against children under 10, and 449 offences were recorded against babies yet to reach their first birthday.  NSPCC, 10 August 2020, England.  

As previously stated, and reported by the NSPCC, child abuse figures in the UK have increased by 30-65% during lockdown in recent reports (90%, as reported by NCMEC).  

Child abuse statistics are likely much higher than reported due to various factors. 

These statistics were unacceptable before the pandemic and lockdown, especially in a world where emphasis is placed on safeguarding a future or a suitable environment or climate for the future.  Many would agree that children are our future, and considering child abuse statistics in every country, including the UK, this might be the most appropriate place to start to aim to ensure a future.

Let us work together to protect our most vulnerable in all age groups. 

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