Background & purpose
In response to the COVID-19 (C-19) pandemic, the South African government instituted strict lockdown and related legislation. Although this response was well intended, many believed it advanced children’s vulnerability to abuse and neglect. This article interrogates these concerns. It investigates how C-19 legislation enabled, or constrained, South African children’s protection from abuse and neglect and appraises the findings from a social-ecological resilience perspective with the aim of advancing child protection in times of emergency.
The authors conducted a rapid review of the legislation, directives and regulations pertaining to South Africa’s strict lockdown (15 March to 31 May 2020). They searched two databases (SA Government platform and LexisNexus) and identified 140 documents for potential inclusion. Following full-text screening, 17 documents were reviewed. Document analysis was used to extract relevant themes.
The regulations and directives that informed South Africa’s strict lockdown offered three protective pathways. They (i) limited C-19 contagion and championed physical health; (ii) ensured uninterrupted protection (legal and statutory) for children at risk of abuse; and (iii) advanced social protection measures available to disadvantaged households.
C-19 legislation has potential to advance children’s protection from abuse and neglect during emergency times. However, this potential will be curtailed if C-19 legislation is inadequately operationalised and/or prioritises physical health to the detriment of children’s intellectual, emotional, social and security needs. To overcome such risks, social ecologies must work with legislators to co-design and co-operationalise C-19 legislation that will not only protect children, but advance their resilience.