Coronavirus (COVID-19) and children: the risk of infection and protection against domestic violence in social distancing

It is common knowledge, although very recent, that COVID-19 (coronavirus) is the most dangerous disease for the elderly, especially those with underlying chronic illnesses, but we still wonder what about children, infants and newborns. A simple, correct but not sufficiently substantiated answer would be: Children are generally at a significantly lower risk of severe disease and severe clinical presentation and die less frequently of the viral disease. Also, it is undoubted that children are infected, but the chances of a serious illness are minimal. Children (including teenagers) have the lowest risk of dying and a significantly lower incidence of the most serious illnesses. The very fact is in complete contradiction to all other viral diseases to which children are significantly more susceptible.

That’s all we know for now about the child population and COVID 19.

Yet, the question is: is it because they are not infected, or do they have such mild symptoms that they may remain unrecognized? We do not yet have an exact answer to that question.

Sounds pretty bizarre, doesn’t it? For now, that’s a fact.

We also know that infants and newborns are at greater risk of COVID-19 compared to older children, as reported in a recent issue of the scientific journal Pediatrics. In conclusion, the younger the child, the greater is the risk of developing the disease.


COVID-19 and pregnant women

Furthermore, given the very specific changes during pregnancy, pregnant women are considered to be at greater risk than is common in the general population. Still, there is not clear enough evidence for this (the phrase sounds familiar, right?). To date, infection in pregnant women does not increase the risk of miscarriage. Also, in spite of individual unclear cases, for the time being, there are no unambiguous arguments to support the vertical transmission from the mother to the unborn child, nor that the virus leads to disruption of organogenesis (formation of the baby’s organs during intrauterine development). For now, breastfeeding is still recommended, as the best way to feed a baby, using protective measures (masks, disinfection, etc.) if the mother is suspected of infection.


And what about family and home if there is domestic violence in it?

In the broader context of family dynamics, and completely new experiences of the inevitable need for isolation and social distance (recommendations are for it to be greater, and greater, and greater ..), as a postulate of preserving life, the question of child safety arises in families where there had been domestic violence in the past.

Because, when all the personal biases in thinking about dysfunctional families are exposed, the fact remains for them – the most dangerous place in the world is a home if there is domestic violence in it. In times of coronavirus, quarantine lifestyles increase the risk of security in a home affected by domestic violence. Such experiences, non-systematized, already exist in China, where the #AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic movement was founded on the Sina Weibo platform. In the Sixth Tone magazine, Wan Fei, founder of the nonprofit Anti-Violence Association, states that the number of domestic violence has almost doubled since the outbreak of the epidemic in China.

In our circumstances, the inability to enter the field, as one of the basic functions of the Centers for Social Welfare and the consequent inability to assess the situation, is significantly limited. It is common for victims of violence to tend to delay the reporting of abuse, often waiting for the abuser to leave home for work or elsewhere, hiding the truth from friends, relatives and other known people. In these circumstances, a complete change of daily rhythm, such a scenario is completely disabled.

At the time of the pandemic, many issues arise regarding the protection of security against domestic violence at all levels – the city, the state and all relevant services. What if you are in the most vulnerable place – your home? What if it is virtually impossible to get emergency numbers because of quite specific emerging circumstances, pandemics and earthquakes? What if victims of violence due to a pandemic limitation on patient admission cannot exercise their right to adequate and timely healthcare? What if all current protocols have become less meaningful and unfeasible given the isolation priority?

Furthermore, the logical question is, should social workers and judges have an advantage in testing, in the light of the postulates of protecting human rights and the rights of (potential) patients who have been abused, and acting promptly in this regard? The earthquake that struck Zagreb, until further notice (as stated on the institutions’ websites), closed the doors of most judicial institutions.

In this context, is it necessary to find new channels to thank, thanks to the technological advances of the new age?

Social distance, which is the “Sine qua non” of preserving life, is in fact in complete opposition to the goals of protecting the needy.

All of these questions relate to the four-digit number of children who come to the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center every year as patients in need of help. Child abuse and neglect is our daily routine. Social distance, which is the “Sine qua non” of preserving life, is in fact in complete opposition to the goals of protecting the needy. Or maybe now is the time to do our best to prevent this from happening? However, it does not mean a loss of empathy, compassion, and a sense of righteousness in lending a helping hand to the needy. The real isolation is just beginning. However, to the best of our knowledge, despite the absolute change in the priority list and the strong, tectonic change in life habits, the number of calls of children and young people who are victims of domestic violence has not been reduced by the calls received by Brave Phone. It remains to be seen what the situation will look like, and how much of a numerically unassuming statement it will say about the tendencies of domestic violence. Therefore, let us do everything, listen, and respond, it is our duty and obligation.


By: Vanja Slijepčević Saftić, PhD-MD, specialist pediatrician, subspec. Pediatric Neurology Deputy Director of the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center


Disclaimer: This is unofficial translation provided for information purposes. Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center can not be held legally responsible for any translation inaccuracy.   

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