Domestic violence rises during COVID-19 lockdown

Transparency International Rwanda Chairperson Marie Immaculee Ingabire at a past function. / File.

The United Nations notes that the combination of economic and social stresses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as restrictions on movement, have dramatically increased the number of women and girls facing abuse, in almost all countries.

In parts of sub-Saharan Africa, violence between partners is a reality for up to 65 per cent of women. The UN calls for measures to address a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” directed towards women and girls.

 

Besides, experts warn that the COVID-19 confinement boosts anxiety and mental health issues, needless to mention financial and unemployment issues that are attributed to the pandemic.

 

All the aforementioned are potential situations enough to spike domestic violence.

 

Rwanda’s status quo

Nearly one month after Rwanda imposed a countrywide lockdown, how has the confinement affected domestic violence trend?

Andrews Kananga, Lawyer and Executive Director at Legal Aid Rwanda, told The New Times that from their assessment, gender-based violence has taken toll in the last few weeks. He explained that teen mothers and estranged couples who were undergoing a divorce process and still living together when the pandemic struck are the most affected.

“Teen mothers and children who survived on child maintenance from one of their parents are now suffering. Reason being the fact that some jobs were halted or men using lockdown as an excuse to stop paying child support,” Kananga explained.

This is in addition to some teen mothers who also face troubles where they have to be confined with men who impregnated or abused them, Kananga categorised couples whose divorce cases were jeopardised in courts and are now stuck together.  

“We receive hundreds of calls a day from people who need our help. Mainly from teen mothers and partly divorced couples who need legal help. And those are just reported cases,” he said.

Marie Immaculee Ingabire who heads Transparency International in Rwanda, also admitted that domestic violence is taking its toll. “Unfortunately, there is very little to be done”.

Ingabire attributes the increase in GBV on poverty, abuse of alcohol and the fact that boredom can make people aggressive, psychologically.

“We have been receiving double or more calls than before. The only help we offer is to report cases to local authorities and Rwanda Investigation Bureau,” she said.

Way forward

Unfortunately, concerned authorities are having a hard time monitoring routine services that were in place to tackle GBV.

Kananga recommended that since courts will resume using virtual digital means, GBV and domestic violence cases should be made a priority to discourage the trending toll.

He added that grassroots authorities should focus on domestic violence since they are first-hand witnesses of most of such cases.

Ingabire reiterated Kananga’s view that local authorities should take the lead to handle domestic violence cases.

In addition, Ingabire suggested that, since it is hard to reach families who need extra help, concerned parties could raise awareness through media to ensure people are aware of the reporting mechanisms in place.

Early this month, Oxfam published a report indicating that women are on the front line of the coronavirus response and are likely to be hardest hit financially, a fact that emphasizes how prone women are to effects of Coronavirus.

ailiza@newtimesrwanda.com

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