Surge in Child Abuse, Harm During COVID-19 Pandemic Reported | Child Abuse | JAMA | JAMA Network
[Skip to Navigation]
Global Health
August 18, 2020

Surge in Child Abuse, Harm During COVID-19 Pandemic Reported

JAMA. 2020;324(7):621. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.14433

A study documenting an alarming rise in abuse-related head injuries among children in the United Kingdom adds to increasing evidence that the novel coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it are taking a serious toll on children.

The study found that between March 23 and April 23, 2020—the first month of self-isolation in the United Kingdom—10 children were treated for suspected abusive head trauma at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London. The injuries included brain bleeding and skull fractures. The hospital’s monthly average of such injuries was 0.67 during the previous 3 years. Two parents reported delaying care because they feared infection with the novel coronavirus. The authors expressed concern that children with less profound abuse-related injuries may be going untreated.

A World Health Organization report on global child abuse noted that schools were closed to 1.5 billion children worldwide because of the pandemic, and their parents face heightened stress and anxiety from lost income, social isolation, and potential crowding in the home. Additionally, more time online may expose children to an increased risk of online sexual exploitation or bullying.

“Violence against children has always been pervasive, and now things could be getting much worse,” Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF, said in a statement about the report. “Lockdowns, school closures and movement restrictions have left far too many children stuck with their abusers, without the safe space that school would normally offer. It is urgent to scale up efforts to protect children during these times and beyond.”