Introduction: Children are widely recognized as a vulnerable population during disasters and emergencies . The COVID-19 pandemic, like a natural disaster, brought uncertainties and instability to the economic development of the society and social distancing, which might lead to child maltreatment . This study aims to investigate whether job loss, income reduction and parenting affect child maltreatment .
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional online survey of 600 randomly sampled parents aged 18 years or older who had and lived with a child under 10 years old in Hong Kong between 29 May to 16 June 2020 . Participants were recruited from a random list of mobile phone numbers of a panel of parents . Of 779 recruited target parents, 600 parents completed the survey successfully via a web-based system after obtaining their online consent for participating in the survey .
Results: Income reduction was found significantly associated with severe (OR = 3.29 , 95% CI = 1.06 , 10.25) and very severe physical assaults (OR = 7.69 , 95% CI = 2.24 , 26.41) towards children . Job loss or large income reduction were also significantly associated with severe (OR= 3.68 , 95% CI = 1.33 , 10.19) and very severe physical assaults (OR = 4.05 , 95% CI = 1.17 , 14.08) towards children . However, income reduction (OR = 0.29 , 95% CI = 0.15 , 0.53) and job loss (OR = 0.47 , 95% CI = 0.28 , 0.76) were significantly associated with less psychological aggression . Exposure to intimate partner violence between parents is a very strong and significant factor associated with all types of child maltreatment . Having higher levels of difficulty in discussing COVID-19 with children was significantly associated with more corporal punishment (OR = 1.19 , 95% CI = 1.05 , 1.34), whereas having higher level of confidence in managing preventive COVID-19 behaviors with children was negatively associated with corporal punishment (OR = 0.87 , 95% CI = 0.76 , 0.99) and very severe physical assaults (OR = 0.74 , 95% CI = 0.58 , 0.93).
Conclusions: Income instability such as income reduction and job loss amplified the risk of severe and very severe child physical assaults but protected children from psychological aggression . Also, confidence in teaching COVID-19 and managing preventive COVID-19 behaviors with children was significantly negatively associated with corporal punishment during pandemic.