This, she said would ensure the development and well-being of children in a safer environment.
Dr Zakaria, who was speaking at the opening of a two-day capacity building workshop for traditional and religious leaders to partner the Government in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, said the emergence of the disease has had adverse consequences on the development and well-being of children across the world for which Ghana was no exception.
She said with added stress and school closures caused by the pandemic, children and caregivers faced increased social isolation and psychosocial distress, which could increase cases of child abuses.
“Besides, stigma and discrimination related to COVID-19, may make children more vulnerable to violence and psychosocial distress,” she said.
She, therefore, underscored the key roles that religious and traditional leaders play in the development of society and their communities to ensure harmony, hence the COVID-19 pandemic had created a unique opportunity for these leaders to promote best practices to stop the spread of the virus.
“As such, the role of traditional and religious leaders in preventing child abuse and battling the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be overlooked,” she added.
Dr Zakariah said the Gender Ministry in collaboration with the Department for Community Development of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD), the Ghanaians Against Child Abuse (GACA) Secretariat, and the Obaapa Foundation, with support from UNICEF, had trained selected religious and traditional Leaders in six regions on COVID-19 and child abuse.
So far 18 religious and traditional leaders from the Volta, Oti, Savannah, Northern and North-East regions of Ghana have been trained with their campaign messages recorded on prevention of COVID-19 and Child abuse, she said.
She explained that recognising the roles of religious and traditional leaders, the Gender Ministry had ensured their inclusion in the development of the International Society for Social Pediatrics and Child Health in handling cases of child abuse, which had provided guidelines.
Involving all stakeholders in child protection to collectively prevent child abuse, Dr Zakariah said was a step in the right direction, and urged the religious and traditional leaders to raise awareness on COVID-19 and encourage their members to adhere to the measures put in place by the Government to prevent the spread of the virus.
Hajia Alima Mahama, in a speech read on her behalf, noted the GACA campaign, used a training manual and community engagement toolkit for the enforcement of the Child and Family Welfare Policy of Ghana and the National Gender Policy, which ensure the prevention of violence, abuse, and exploitation of children, adolescents, and the youth.
This, she said, had yielded substantial positive behavioural outcomes in relation to the elimination of all forms of child and youth abuses in communities nationwide.
Hajia Alima said the stress from the preventive measures such as social distancing and partial lockdowns, affecting the operation of schools, churches and mosques, had led to the potential disruption of the environments in which children grow and develop.
She said measures used in preventing and controlling the spread of COVID-19 could expose children to protection risks such as domestic violence, cyber bullying, sexual exploitation, adolescent pregnancies and child marriages.
Traditional and religious leaders could be important assets in the implementation of a broader sensitization of key messages on COVID-19, alongside the 11 pillars of child protection such as, child labour, verbal abuse, child marriage, child trafficking and bullying, as a way of involving the masses’ cooperation in the anti-COVID-19 measures.
She pledged the Ministry’s full support for child protection activities, and especially for the wonderful role opinion leaders could play in this critical period.
Dr Anne-Clare Dufay, the Country Representative of UNICEF, called for massive public support to efforts being made to stop child abuses, saying COVID-19 was not affecting children so much in the medical terms, but rather more on the psychosocial aspect, with evidence of the violation of their rights.
Children who have lost their parents or guardians to COVID-19, she said, were going through psychological stress and needed the attention and support of all to be strengthened to relive their dreams.
She spoke about the mode of corrective measures used by parents and caregivers on their children which were sometimes ‘too harsh’, and called for a change to prevent such forms of abuses, and advised that offenses like sexual and other severe forms of child maltreatment be reported to the police for appropriate sanctions.
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