By Constance Ndeleko
The impact of the pandemic couldn’t be felt harder and harsher than by those coming from humanitarian settings. It has been tough and challenging to survive this phase for children on the move and refugee especially with Covid-19 restrictions in place to help combat the virus.
Girls and young women have stomached enough due to the economic pinch forcing them to adapt to the new normal with the already pre-existing challenges they were facing on a daily basis.
The dangers have compounded for girls living in these humanitarian settings exposing their vulnerability to different forms of child abuse and violation of their rights such as: Child marriage, forced labor, early pregnancies, Sexual abuse and exploitation, lack of good health services and care, lack of access to essential products like sanitary towels, lack of education etc.
Furthermore, limited access to information and decision-making spaces related to the COVID-19 response places women and girls at risk. It confines their rights to information thus, they cannot report nor can they be decisive on their judgment especially towards what they want to achieve.
Least not forgetting those with disability and in humanitarian settings whose daily life is already challenging and are the most vulnerable group and in danger if their well-being is not protected due to the inability of accessing essentials they need especially since restriction of movement in place.
The pandemic-related stresses of lockdowns, income loss, and confinement to small places are further undermining children’s safety. Reports indicate heighten cases of GBV, sexual harassment and exploitation, child trafficking and prostitution striking hard on girls due to their vulnerability.
Forcibly displaced adolescent girls are facing increased risk of disrupted education and school drop-out as well as an extra caregiving burden during the pandemic.
Schools not only served them for educational purpose for those who could/can attend but also a shelter, a place where they could get their only nutritional meal of the day, where they could access essential like sanitary pad and a place they could call a safe space, where they could socially interact with their friends and teacher to lessen the psychological burden especially for most African girls and young women.
According to Plan International, ‘Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are some the world’s most vulnerable people – a reality that is further being exacerbated as COVID-19 continues to spread across the globe.’
Regardless of the many challenges and layers of discrimination, that women and adolescent girls in humanitarian crisis are facing, they are not just passive victims. They have unbelievable possibilities to contribute towards decision making, taking up leadership roles and responsibilities in responding to COVID-19 and other issues affecting them.
We can’t just let them sit and wait for aid, we have to include them towards decision making processes, reviewing of polices for them to accelerate towards reaching and realizing their full potential as leaders of tomorrow and generations to come.
It is time that we also call on African member states to works towards helping young women and girls in humanitarian settings to reach their optimal potential through signing of the declarations that protect the rights and welfare of the African child.