A dramatic surge in cases of violence against girls and women during lockdown in Latin America and the Caribbean is threatening to turn into a catastrophe. Latin America already has the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world.
While lockdown measures are vital to halt the spread of COVID-19, being confined to home puts girls and women at heightened risk of violence in the home and cuts them off from education, essential protection services and social networks.
Catastrophe unfolding in Latin America
“Widespread lockdowns have resulted in horrific conditions where girls and women, who are experiencing violence and abuse, have no one to turn to and nowhere to go. They are trapped. A catastrophe is unfolding in Latin America,” said Debora Cobar, Plan International Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Girls and women don't have access to phones to seek help
Data gathered since global stay-at-home orders began paint an alarming picture. In Colombia, reports of domestic violence during lockdown have increased by 175% compared to the same period last year. In Mexico, domestic violence calls to helplines have gone up by 60% in the first weeks of lockdown. In the Dominican Republic, the violence service of the Ministry of Women's Affairs, Línea Mujer, received 619 calls during the first 25 days of quarantine.
Girls speak out
Miriam, 18, from Guatemala said: “There’s something that really worries me. It’s the violence against women and girls.”
“It is sad and painful to hear that there is so much violence against girls and women. It is a more harmful disease than virus itself. In remote communities, there is either no signal or girls and women don't have access to phones to seek help,” said 21-year-old Samya from Ecuador.
Bathsheba, 15, from Peru, said: "There are many girls who are being violated physically and psychologically. And this information is not coming out. They only talk about COVID-19, they don't talk about the cases of violence."
“We fear thousands more cases of gender-based violence across the region as lockdowns continue. It is vital that states adapt their existing response systems, to ensure that services, including helplines, sexual and reproductive health and rights services and safe spaces, remain accessible, including by using remote forms of provision,” said Ms Cobar.
Access to sexual and reproductive health services at risk
According to UN reports, an additional 18 million women are due to lose access to modern contraceptives in Latin America and the Caribbean because of the pandemic. Plan International is especially concerned about the impact this will have on adolescents, putting them at particular risk and raising the likelihood of teenage pregnancies.
inclusion of men and boys in the fight against violence is essential
Ms Cobar said: “As government-mandated lockdowns continue, women and girls are forced to spend more time with their abusers. That is why it is imperative that governments recognise that, now more than ever, efforts to protect girls and women from violence, sexual assault or unwanted pregnancy must be prioritised.
“At Plan International, we have been using virtual channels across the region to provide information to girls on the support available to them. Alongside that, we are working with local governments to reinforce the protection systems and seeking to educate girls and boys on awareness around gender-based violence, co-responsibility and positive masculinity in the home. The inclusion of men and boys in the fight against violence is essential to combat this problem.”
Donate to the COVID-19 appeal
Plan International is raising €100 million to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable children and their communities from the impacts of COVID-19. The organisation’s response, covering more than 50 countries, including several nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, is focused on assisting children - particularly girls, who are disproportionately affected by the crisis.