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Why we developed a ‘COVID-19 contingency plan for protection of children and youth from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA)

Last updated one month ago

Why we developed a ‘COVID-19 contingency plan for protection of children and youth from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA)

COVID-19 has resulted in restrictions including lockdowns which affects frontline workers’ ability to respond to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) due to curfews and stay-at-home orders, in accordance with their responsibilities.

Yet children and youth are at particular risk of potential harm where school closures interrupt school-based services and interventions for at-risk children. Greater difficulties in accessing SEA response services, as well as increased burdens and separation from caregivers (due to quarantines, or severe illness / death), may lead to an increase in SEA against children, in particular girls, including child / forced marriage or transactional sex.  

These children / youth at risk of SEA not only need to be linked to welfare services but most importantly, they need someone to talk to through the helpline to relieve their stress and separation anxiety when physical contact to frontline workers services are least accessible due to quarantines and lockdowns.

In Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar, the health system and child protection systems (social welfare services) are technically under one ministry, in theory guaranteeing public health risk management to outbreaks are essentially managed through integrated and coordinated, health and social welfare packages. This arrangement has a unique advantage of ensuring child protection workforce is available throughout the COVID-19 timelines, as part of essential work.

The helpline call centre is uniquely positioned to provide PSEA tapping into above described health architectural framework in Tanzania. The following is a list of actions included in the helpline’s contingency plan.

First. We wanted to train all PSEA focal points on the requirements to promptly refer survivors of SEA for assistance through existing GBV pathways. This took place online where health and counselling experts delivered training to officers on Zoom. The three days training equipped PSEA focal points with information they need to promptly refer survivors of SEA for assistance through existing GBV pathways, in line with Child Safeguarding Assistance Protocols.

Second. We purchased and distributed emergency and safety essentials to frontline workers e.g. masks, gloves, sanitizers, thermometers, etc. Unguja North has 6 SWOs, 75 Shehas, 7 Police officers and 77 Shehia Women and Children Coordinators. Keeping the frontline child protection service providers of North Unguja safe at work was a key objective. We purchased and distributed safety essentials including hand sanitizers, face masks, bio and infrared thermometers procured for said frontline protection service providers. This event was covered by the media particularly Zanzibar’s nation TV, ZBC here watch from minute 18.32.

Our generosity did not only end in North Unguja, we also made a delivery of safety essentials to the ministry responsible for children services in Zanzibar. The deputy principal secretary of the ministry, who handles the Department of Women and Children, Ms. Mwanajuma Majid Abdallah received an infrared thermometer to be used at the ministry’s main gate to take staff and visitors’ temperature, gloves, sanitizers and face masks for ministry staff.

Third. We are conducting community sensitization and awareness raising across local radios and social media, with clear information on how to report SEA; and most importantly, promotion of the existing online sexual abuse content removal portal on social media to create both demand and inform the public about its existence and how to use it.

Fourth. We have developed a WhatsApp Bot targeting children and young persons with chatting features with information ranging from SEA to COVID-19. The WhatsApp Bot was assigned a name #Malezi, which simply means ‘parenting.’ It comes with a main menu and sub-menus, specifically with features to allow seamless feedback and generates data with a visual dashboard to track trends on the bot.

To use the service, WhatsApp users can save the #Malezi mobile number onto their phone contacts, then text the word ‘Hi’ in a WhatsApp message to begin. The bot will then respond via a series of prompts, covering key queries and information - and ideally, dispelling some of the rumors and misinformation around the SRH topics, WHO and Ministry of Health approved messages on COVID-19 and most importantly information on where to report SEA related cases.

Lastly, we developed a client VPN system to support our helpline staff to work from home in the midst of COVID-19. We therefore never stopped working because all our systems were able to operate remotely due to these investments on VPN systems for both Mainland and Zanzibar.

We are thankful to the generous support of our contingency plan’s implementing partners Oak Foundation and UNFPA Tanzania for availing resources to enable us efficaciously deliver the plan to our communities.

For comments and / or inquires please call 116 National Child Helpline. This is a free of cost service available across all networks in Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar. Facebook: Sema Tanzania; Instagram: @sematanzania, Twitter: @SemaTanzania or visit our website: www.sematanzania.org