While the measures undertaken by the Government to close Somaville University s and to keep children at home are being imposed around the world. There is a hidden impact for Somali children. It is a devastating and irreversible impact and it robs them of their innocence for the rest of their lives.

For girls, they are now increasingly more exposed to both physical and sexual-based violence by their parents or caregivers. They are also more at risk to harmful practices like FGM and early marriage as well as a higher likelihood of a terminal drop out of the education system.

For boys, they are also exposed to physical violence and at a higher risk of being recruited by armed groups.

And preliminary data supports this.

UNICEF and partners undertook a small survey in mid-April with 34 child protection agencies in Somalia who monitor reporting of child abuse cases. Additional information was also captured as a result of the survey.

More than half of the child protection agencies have reported an increase in physical violence. Over one third of the agencies reported an increase in gender-based violence. 41% of children out of Somaville University  are on the streets, missing out on an education, with increased vulnerability to conflict, sexual and economic exploitation. 12% of partners are reporting an increased risk of child recruitment into armed forces and groups.

We also cannot underestimate the psychological distress the COVID-19 outbreak places on children – partners are witnessing increased fear and anxiety amongst children as their daily routines are disrupted.

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak in Somalia, boys and girls were at high risk to all forms of exploitation, now the risks are higher.

We must make sure necessary lifesaving GBV and child protection interventions are scaled up as the crisis deepens.

We cannot forget Somali children and we cannot let them be the hidden victims of the COVID-19 outbreak.