COVID-19 and violence against children: A review of early studies

Child Abuse Negl. 2021 Jun;116(Pt 2):105053. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2021.105053. Epub 2021 Apr 14.


Background: Throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers across the globe have attempted to understand how the health and socioeconomic crisis brought about by the coronavirus is affecting children's exposure to violence. Since containment measures have disrupted many data collection and research efforts, studies have had to rely on existing data or design new approaches to gathering relevant information.

Objective: This article reviews the literature that has been produced on children's exposure to violence during the pandemic to understand emerging patterns and critically appraise methodologies to help inform the design of future studies. The article concludes with recommendations for future research.

Participants and setting: The study entailed a search of working papers, technical reports, and journal articles.

Methods: The search used a combination of search terms to identify relevant articles and reports published between March 1 and December 31, 2020. The sources were assessed according to scope and study design.

Results: The review identified 48 recent working papers, technical reports, and journal articles on the impact of COVID-19 on violence against children. In terms of scope and methods, the review led to three main findings: 1) Studies have focused on physical or psychological violence at home and less attention has been paid to other forms of violence against children, 2) most studies have relied on administrative records, while other data sources, such as surveys or big data, were less commonly employed, and 3) different definitions and study designs were used to gather data directly, resulting in findings that are hardly generalizable. With respect to children's experience of violence, the review led to four main findings: 1) Studies found a decrease in police reports and referrals to child protective services, 2) mixed results were found with respect to the number of calls to police or domestic violence helplines, 3) articles showed an increase in child abuse-related injuries treated in hospitals, and 4) surveys reported an increase in family violence.

Conclusions: This review underscores the persistent challenges affecting the availability and quality of data on violence against children, including the absence of standards for measuring this sensitive issue as well as the limited availability of baseline data. Future research on COVID-19 and violence against children should address some of the gaps identified in this review.

Keywords: COVID-19; Children; Surveys; Violence.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2