Editor’s Note: At Together for Girls, we focus on data-driven solutions to prevent violence against children. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re highlighting evidence-based interventions, strategies, and resources with our “Solutions Spotlight” series.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, women and children face increased threats to their safety and well-being. On top of the challenges of fighting the pandemic, as families are quarantined and the global economy falters, women and children face an increased risk of violence in the home. Now more than ever, we need solutions that tackle the pressing issues of child abuse and domestic violence. This week, we’re highlighting solutions in Latin America and the Caribbean that help keep women and children safe and protected from violence, during the pandemic and beyond.
With COVID-19 exacerbating poverty and food insecurity, children around the world are at a greater risk of sexual violence and sex tourism, as sex offenders prey on desperate families.
To help protect children from sexual exploitation, the travel and tourism industry in Bolivia, with help from ECPAT Bolivia, is using The Code to identify and respond to cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation. The Code is a global initiative to prevent child sexual exploitation within the tourism industry.
Hotels in Bolivia use The Code’s criteria for protecting children by establishing child protection policies and procedures, in addition to training employees on how to identify and report child sexual exploitation. As a result, hotel staff learn to spot signs of child sexual exploitation and report incidences to help children in a timely manner. When a child or teen is seen travelling alone with someone much older and without identification, for example, receptionists know the right questions to ask to make sure the child is not being exploited. If they notice red flags, they follow the hotel’s child protection procedure and contact child protection services if needed.
In Bogota, Colombia, the number of calls and messages to the government-run domestic abuse hotline has increased 160% since quarantine started. Across Colombia, 13 women have been murdered since the lockdown started, many killed by their partners or husbands in their homes. In Buenos Aires, calls to the government-run abuse helpline have risen by 60% during the lockdown.
While cases of domestic violence rise as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, data shows that it can be difficult and unsafe for women to report incidents. Women at home with their abusers during lockdown may put themselves at risk if they try to call for help, and many women do not have the information they need on how to receive help. To help tackle domestic violence in Bogota, Colombia, the mayor’s office launched a campaign called #SafeSpaces for victims of violence to get help.
As part of the #SafeSpaces campaign, victims of violence in Bogota can seek help from store managers in over 630 supermarkets as well as pharmacies. There are also posters in shop windows and online promoting the #SafeSpaces campaign, as a way of ensuring that victims of violence know where and how to receive help.
Haiti is another country that has seen a sharp rise in cases of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, as unemployment heightens family tensions.
Since the initial COVID-19 outbreak, a number of women’s organizations in Haiti have stepped up to prevent gender-based violence (GBV). One such organization, the Rassemblement des femmes engagées de Ouanaminthe (RFEO), works to fight GBV and support survivors through economic empowerment.
RFEO records cases of violence using a database, and since COVID-19, they have seen a significant increase in cases of domestic violence. In response, RFEO increased its efforts to raise awareness against GBV and collaborate with other organizations to offer support to women and girls affected.
“We will use several means such as radio broadcasts, neighborhood entertainment, and even theatre,” explains Roseleine Pierre, Coordinator of RFEO, discussing RFEO’s advocacy work.