Aid agencies are warning that coronavirus lockdowns have worsened spiralling rates of violence against young girls and women in the Asia-Pacific.
Globally, more than 240 million girls and woman have suffered sexual or physical violence over the past year, according to humanitarian health organisation Plan International.
In a joint report with Australian aid agency Save the Children, Plan International estimated that every three months that coronavirus lockdowns continue, an extra 15 million gender-based violence cases are expected.
“This has made it worse and the accelerators that we had to ensure that girls are protected, they go to school, they have access to healthcare and reproductive health services – we have actually gone backwards,” said Plan International’s regional director Bhagyashri Dengle.
“And now to bring it back, it’s going to take immense effort.”
The Because We Matter report includes data from domestic violence helplines to highlight a spike in aggression towards women during the COVID-19 outbreak in the Asia-Pacific region.
In India, a national hotline received 92,000 calls during just the first 11 days of lockdown.
Ms Dengle said this will only increase and the Indian government is overwhelmed by the health crisis, so issues of domestic violence have been increasingly falling by the wayside.
“In India, we do have a community where there’s child protection, but at this point, given the lockdowns, many of those systems may not be working very well,” she said.
“I mean as it is there was a need to strengthen those systems, the reporting mechanisms and the redress for violence.”
Thailand’s domestic violence rates almost doubled, according to the Social Development Ministry, and almost one in four respondents to a survey in Nepal said intensifying violence against children is directly linked to the country’s coronavirus restrictions.
The report’s authors called for leaders and governments to take urgent and decisive action to better protect women.
Schools provide protection for vulnerable children
The number of children who suffered sexual exploitation online has tripled in the Philippines this year, as students spend more time online to access their education, social media and for entertainment.
The government recorded almost 279,166 cases of cyber sex trafficking against children from March to May this year, up from 76,561 in 2019.
Globally, Save the Children estimates more than a billion students have been pulled out of school this year because of the global pandemic.
“School is one of the best protective mechanisms we have against domestic violence as teachers can check on the wellbeing of children and act as a referral pathway,” said the organisation’s international programs manager Mat Tinkler.
“We have serious concerns that out-of-school girls will be more likely to experience violence or abuse at the hands of relatives or neighbours… these girls are then far less likely to return to school once they re-open, impacting their entire futures.”
Australia’s domestic violence rates increase
Data from a survey conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology showed two thirds of the women experiencing sexual or physical violence said attacks started or worsened during the pandemic.
Karen Willice from Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia said during the COVID-19 crisis there was change in the types of violence being experienced by women.
“We’re also seeing, which is what we absolutely expected, an increase in the kinds of violence and the levels of control … offenders who’ve had total 24/7 control for months now and then as the front door is starting to open they’re seeing that they’re losing control and are seeking to up the ante to maintain that level of power and control that they got used to,” she said.
“The telephone counselling overall reduced quite considerably, but our online counselling increased quite considerably (during the lockdown), so what that said to us is that people who were either living with their offenders, or people who were living with others, didn’t want the others in the household to overhear their conversations with a counsellor.”
If you or someone you know is impacted by family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.