Violence against Children during Pandemic


The situation of crisis produced by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic poses major challenges to societies all over the world. While efforts to contain the virus are vital to protect global health, these same efforts are exposing children and adolescents to an increased risk of family violence. Various criminological theories explain the causes of this new danger. The social isolation required by the measures taken in the different countries, the impact on jobs, the economic instability, high levels of tension and fear of the virus, and new forms of relationships have all increased levels of stress in the most vulnerable families and, therefore, the risk of violence.

In addition, mandatory lockdowns imposed to curb the spread of the disease have trapped children in their homes, isolating them from the people and the resources that could help them. In general, the restrictive measures imposed in many countries have not been accompanied by an analysis of the access to the resources needed to reduce this risk. It is necessary to take urgent measures to intervene in these high-risk contexts so that children and adolescents can develop and prosper in a society which is likely to undergo profound changes, but in which the defense of their rights and protection must remain a major priority.


The main objective of this narrative review is to describe the risk factors for violence against children that the situational context derived from COVID-19 may have generated in families around the world, and to assess them from a criminological perspective. In order to gather the latest evidence, we conducted a search of several databases that identify published and preprint research (i.e., PubMed, PsycINFO, Web of Science, Scopus, SSRN, and Google Scholar). The search terms were focused on family violence against children, risk factors and theoretical models, and crisis contexts and/or COVID-19. Here we review the theoretical and empirical studies published to date on the topic of child maltreatment and COVID-19. We also include some references on previous crises and disasters to assess the relevance of those results to the current situation. Finally, we try to explain the more than likely high risk of child abuse during the COVID-19 crisis in the light of criminological, psychological and sociological theories.

Increasing risk of violence against children during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic may have entailed major changes for many children and their families, not just because of the lockdown, restricted measures, social isolation, changing demographics and the reduction of available health services, but also due to the sudden and possibly long-term increase in child poverty and family uncertainty. The pandemic represents a global crisis not only for our health and economy, but also for family well-being through a cascading process of factors that can drive, precipitate or exacerbate potential stressors. The situation generated by COVID-19 has few precedents, but we can build on the work in crisis or emergency situations where scenarios of rapidly increasing stress are accompanied by abrupt changes to prior conditions.

The effects of disasters and mass violence on individual development can be described in relation to the exposure dose or cumulative risks that pose significant threats or disturbances to individuals, families, or communities. Thus, the COVID-19 pandemic has been conceptualized as a multisystem cascading global disaster in which children’s lives have been dramatically disrupted at many levels and for which our societies were unprepared. Indeed, research on COVID-19 is beginning to show the negative outcomes of the lockdown and the restrictions imposed as well as the effects of social stressors on family members, and highlights the need for longitudinal examination of children’s and adolescents’ mental health. Emerging evidence on both healthy parenting and the mental health of children and adolescents stresses that the magnitude of the impact depends on vulnerability factors such as developmental age, previous mental health conditions, educational and socioeconomic status, or being quarantined.

This dramatically changing context also needs to be understood in order to address the risk of violence against children and adolescents, which is essential if our aim is to prevent or detect these cases before the consequences of this violence are irremediable. In this paper we analyze the risk factors for violence against this population from the perspective of criminological theories and socio-ecological models.


The present review is one of the few studies to date that has focused on the risk factors for family violence against children and youth related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have sought to explain this risk through the application of criminological theories and socioecological models, stressing the importance of the social sciences when dealing with a pandemic and its massive global health consequences. We can conclude that, in the unprecedented situation produced by the COVID-19 crisis, the risk of victimization of children and adolescents is high. The repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic go far beyond the measures to prevent disease transmission and reduce its impact on the global population. Child victim services and family violence victim-serving professionals must be prepared for the likely increases in victimization rates both during and long after this pandemic. They must address the new obstacles and look for innovative solutions based on a community-centered approach. It is also vital to identify high-risk contexts in order to avoid the occurrence of long-term new acts of violence. Although an initial rise in family violence is generally observed during the acute phase of a crisis, the fact we need to keep in mind is that these surges are often sustained for years during the recovery period and require a prevention strategy that offers long-term solutions. The potential consequences of increased child maltreatment should be considered in future cost–benefit calculations of lockdown measures. Since family violence must be seen as a possible public health consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments should work together with social care and health care providers to integrate child maltreatment into future plans for disaster risk reduction and preparedness. It is crucial to learn as much as possible from this disaster to prepare for similar (or totally unprecedented) crisis situations in the future. We should take the necessary measures to enable children and adolescents to develop and prosper in a society which is likely to be very different, but in which the defense of their rights and well-being must continue to be a priority.

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