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Angelina Jolie calls out the hidden cost of child abuse that is being fuelled by lockdown

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Anna Brech
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Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie says we should all be alert to the warning signs of child abuse, that – without the usual safety measures in place – may be on rise due to the coronavirus lockdown.

If there’s one small blessing of the coronavirus situation we’re all facing right now, it’s that – although some children do develop COVID-19 – the evidence so far suggests very few suffer severe symptoms as a result.

In a recent study of over 40,000 people with confirmed coronavirus infections, children aged under 19 made up just 2% of the cases and none of the deaths recorded up to 20 February. 

However, Angelina Jolie – who combines her day job as an actor and director with the role of UN special envoy – is keen to highlight another risk that children may be facing as the result of the coronavirus outbreak.

More than a fifth of the world’s population is currently under lockdown, and Jolie says the mass shutdown may be inadvertently driving a rise in child abuse behind closed doors.

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“Isolating a victim from family and friends is a well-known tactic of control by abusers,” Jolie writes, in a powerful new essay for Time magazine. “This means necessary social distancing could inadvertently fuel a direct rise in trauma and suffering for vulnerable children.

“It comes at a time when children are deprived of the very support networks that help them cope,” she continues. “From their friends and trusted teachers to after-school activities and visits to a beloved relative’s house that provide an escape from their abusive environment.”

Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie chats to child refugees in Colombia in June 2019, as part of her role with the UN

Jolie points out that school time itself can provide a much-needed shield and reprieve from the millions of children who are exposed to violence or sexual abuse at home.

In addition, she says: “Lockdown also means fewer adult eyes on their situation. In child abuse cases, child protective services are most often called by third parties such as teachers, guidance counsellors, after school program coordinators and coaches.”

Social isolation measures mean those very same forms of regulation and protection are now missing from children’s lives, right when they need them the most.

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Faced with the current situation, Jolie makes a plea for communities to stay connected and alert to symptoms of abuse.

“Even though we are physically separated from each other under lockdown, we can make a point of calling family or friends, particularly where we might have concerns that someone is vulnerable,” she says.

In addition, she says, it’s important to stay educated about the warning signs of violence or other forms of abuse, as well as supporting local domestic violence refuges and children’s support networks. 

In the UK alone, domestic violence calls have increased by 25% since lockdown began, in a depressing trend that’s been mirrored globally

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Children will inevitably be exposed to more violence as a result, and may be targets themselves. Add to this issues such as sexual exploitation, and it’s clear we need to be more vigilant and united than ever before when it comes to protecting vulnerable youngsters.

As Jolie says: “It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child. It will take an effort by the whole of our country to give children the protection and care they deserve.” The same applies to every community around the world, too.

For help and support with any of the issues raised in this story, contact UK-based domestic violence charity Refuge or UK children’s charity the NSPCC.

Images: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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