Online child abusers are seeking to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic, international law enforcement agency Europol has warned.
Europol said it had information that “strongly indicates increased online activity by those seeking child abuse material”.
With schools closed and many working from home, children are more likely to be using the internet unsupervised.
The agency also said cyber-criminals are taking advantage of the crisis.
In online forums and boards, child abusers are ”welcoming opportunities to engage with children”, Europol said.
It warned that abusers expect children “to be more vulnerable due to isolation, less supervision and greater online exposure”.
A spokeswoman said the agency could not share which national law enforcement agencies had raised concerns, but described the increase in activity as a “worrying trend”.
“There are lots of kids at home, off school, and they’re online while their parents are busy working,” said Prof Alan Woodward, a cyber-security expert at the University of Surrey.
“Understand the risk – it’s the very time that these people take advantage of your attention being somewhere else.”
The NSPCC said technology companies also had a “vital job” to do in protecting children from abusers on their platforms – and report suspicious activity to police.
“Worryingly, abusers will see this national health emergency as an opportunity to target children who are spending more time online and may be feeling increasingly lonely or anxious because of the lockdown,” said Andy Burrows, NSPCC Head of Child Safety Online.
“At home it is now more important than ever for parents and carers to be having regular conversations with their children about what they’re doing online, and that they know they can come to you with any worries they may have.”
The NSPCC’s Net Aware website contains information for parents about different social networks and websites, and how to stay safe online. It has recently added articles about video chat and livestreaming services, and the newly-popular Netflix Party extension.
Europol’s report also warned of the high level of other cyber-crime, including phishing emails that pretend to contain information about the virus in links and attachments which “aim to profit from the global health concern.”
Many of the scams being employed are classic cyber-attacks, with a new coronavirus angle in the way they are presented.
“The psychology they’re using is the same, but some of the classic human responses are heightened at the moment,” Prof Woodward said.
“Fear, doubt, and uncertainty is a classic one to play on.”
The looming global recession resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic could cause hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths this year, effectively reversing recent gains in reducing infant mortality, a new UN report issued on Thursday has revealed.
In a statement on the new findings, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for urgent action to support the world’s children amid the universal crisis.
“Thankfully, children have so far been largely spared from the most severe symptoms of the disease. But their lives are being totally upended”, he said.
“I appeal to families everywhere, and leaders at all levels: protect our children.”
The report finds that the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, together with measures to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus, could potentially be catastrophic for millions of children worldwide.
It details how the crisis is putting young lives at risk in key areas that include education, food, safety and health.
Education on lockdown
Practically all students worldwide are now out of school because of the pandemic.
Nearly 190 countries have imposed school closures, affecting 1.5 billion children and young people.
The report stated that the losses in learning today, and in their future development, are hard to fathom.
“Some schools are offering distance learning, but this is not available to all”, the Secretary-General said, adding that children in countries with slow and expensive Internet services are severely disadvantaged.
Millions missing out on school meals
Child nutrition is another vital concern, according to the report.
The UN chief recalled that even before the pandemic, childhood malnutrition and stunting were at unacceptable levels.
With classrooms shuttered, the nearly 310 million children worldwide who rely on school meals are missing out on this daily dose of nutrition.
Meanwhile, hastily implemented lockdown measures risk disrupting food supply chains and local markets, posing a potentially grave threat to food access.
Safety at home and online
Sixty per cent of all children worldwide are living in countries that have implemented full or partial lockdowns, according to the report.
As the crisis deepens, family stress-levels also are rising, and children confined at home are both victims and witnesses of domestic violence and abuse.
School closures also mean the loss of what the UN chief called “an important early warning mechanism” for incidents.
“There is also a danger that girls will drop out of school, leading to an increase in teenage pregnancies”, he added.
Earlier this week, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and partners reported that with more children relying on technology for learning and socializing, the risk of online abuse and exploitation is rising.
The Secretary-General underlined the special responsibility social media companies have in ensuring child protection online.
Child health a casualty
Though coronavirus infection rates so far have been “far milder” among children, the report found the broader effects of the crisis on child health are significant.
Hospitals and health facilities overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients are making it difficult for children to access standard care.
Families out of work, or otherwise experiencing reduced incomes, are forced to cut back on essential health and food expenditures, which particularly affects children, women and breastfeeding mothers.
Polio vaccination campaigns have ceased, thus setting back progress in eradicating the disease in its last two strongholds: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Additionally, 23 countries have suspended measles immunization campaigns targeting nearly 80 million children.
“With the global recession gathering pace, there could be hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths in 2020”, the Secretary-General warned.
This scenario would effectively reverse progress made in reducing infant mortality over the past two to three years.
“And this alarming figure does not even take into account services disrupted due to the crisis – it only reflects the current relationship between economies and mortality, so is likely an under-estimate of the impact,” said the report.
Action for children
While the COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented, it is also an opportunity for “unprecedented international solidarity” for children and humanity.
Governments are urged to take steps to counter the unintended effects on children by rolling out or expanding social assistance to families, securing food supply chains and local food markets, and prioritizing the continuity of services such as schooling, nutrition programmes, and maternal and newborn care.
The report further recommends specific protections for the most vulnerable children, such as migrants, refugees, minorities, children with disabilities, and those living in slums.
Standard strategies for physical distancing and lockdowns should be adapted in places such as low-income settings in urban areas, refugee camps and conflict zones.
The report underlined that the UN is working across all settings and stands ready to support countries striving to invest in the world’s youngest generation.
Said the Secretary-General: “With the pandemic placing so many of the world’s children in jeopardy, I reiterate my urgent appeal: let us protect our children and safeguard their well-being.”
Province Providing One-time Financial Assistance During School and Child Care Closures
TORONTO — The Ontario government is offering direct financial support to parents while Ontario schools and child care centres remain closed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The new Support for Families initiative offers a one-time payment of $200 per child 0 to 12 years of age, and $250 for those 0 to 21 years of age with special needs.
The announcement was made today by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, and Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education.
“During this extraordinary time, we’re doing everything we can to support parents to keep everyone safe and ensure our children continue to learn and stay mentally active,” said Premier Ford. “This one-time funding will allow parents to access additional tools for our kids to use while at home and studying remotely. I want to remind everyone to stay at home and only go out if absolutely necessary. It’s the only way we are going to defeat this terrible virus.”
“Our aim during these extraordinarily challenging times is to continue supporting those impacted hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak — Ontario families,” said Minister Lecce. “School and child care closures have disrupted family life a great deal and our government will do whatever it takes to support them and keep them safe. This funding will flow to parents directly, to offer them immediate relief during this difficult time.”
Families can complete a simple online application at Ontario’s Support for Families web page to access this financial support. Parents already receiving Support for Parents payments through direct deposit will be automatically eligible for this financial support and do not need to submit a new application.
“As we reach a critical juncture in our fight against COVID-19, it’s important schools and child care centres remain closed,” said Minister Elliott. “Keeping Ontarians safe is our number one priority and it’s also our duty to help parents who are supporting their children and families during this unprecedented time.”
Through this initiative the government is providing over $300 million in relief to parents across Ontario as part of Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19.
“With schools and child care closed, life has become more difficult for families and they need some extra help,” said Rod Phillips, Minister of Finance. “Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19, includes $7 billion in direct support for people and jobs, and $10 billion in cash flow support for people and businesses. This $17 billion plan includes direct relief for parents when they need it the most.”
Ontario public schools will remain closed to teachers until Friday, May 1, 2020, and to students until Monday, May 4, 2020, to keep Ontario’s students safe from COVID-19. Private schools, licensed child care centres and EarlyON programs will also remain closed until April 13, according to the Declaration of Emergency, which only allows closures to be extended for one 14-day period at a time.
On March 22, Ontario announced its effort to support health care and frontline workers with emergency child care services across the province. Frontline workers who make use of these services are also eligible for this one-time payment.
The Government reiterated its focus on positive mental health supports for students dealing with the challenges of COVID-19. Premier Ford announced an investment of up to $12 million to deliver online and virtual mental health supports across our province, supporting students, families and frontline workers.
Ontario launched the second phase of Learn at Home and Apprendre à la maison, a new online portal that provides resources for families so students can continue their education while schools are closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation.
Visit Ontario’s website to learn more about how the province continues to protect Ontarians from COVID-19.
Because of COVID-19, we are all worried about the global pandemic. Coronavirus develops exponentially. The number of infected people is growing and the number of deaths is increasing every day, which causes concern for the entire population of the planet.
Among those infected with Coronavirus, there are also children, but it is very difficult for them to identify symptoms and the infection is asymptomatic or very mild.
Sick kids and the ones that need a long term care are in a great danger as their immune system is weaker than other kids`.
Kids Charity Fund is a non profit organization that supports children by strengthening their health and welfare. We have to support for medical staff taking care of young patients at hospitals.
Sick children are a very sad story for all of us. We are trying to raise funds and strive to awaken in people the desire to become participants in our charity projects.
By donating today, you give your children hope for tomorrow.