PROTECTION OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC
History is a powerful and strong proof to show how pandemic have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world a new. The Covid-19 or the corona virus that has been declared as a global pandemic is stated as a great equalizer by the government authorities. We are rapidly trying to navigate this virus which is evolving day by day. It is really crucial for us to stay informed about the latest news and updates on the virus and its effect on children, men, women and senior citizens. The Covid-19 is having both short and long lasting term implications on us. All our family members, colleagues and friends are affected and disturbed. It also had a great impact on our work and will affect the goals as well as achievements of our shared vision of a world without violence against women. As the virus continues to spread across the world, we all are facing many new stresses, including physical and psychological health risks, schools and business closures, movement restrictions and family confinement, isolation and quarantine and economic losses.
Condition of women & children during Covid-19 -
Through all of these women are particularly more vulnerable. Every woman has a right to live free of gender-based violence, torture and abuses, access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services as well as access to justice. Violence against women has significantly increased in India, Australia, Brazil, China, France, UK, etc. Older women, women with disabilities, women who are banished, migrants, and living in war-affected areas are likely to have extra risks and needs are particularly vulnerable during pandemics. The social and economic stresses, restrictions in movement and cramped homes are adding a surge in gender-based violence and discriminations. And during this pandemic, it was estimated that one out of three women in our society will experience violence and harassment. Even pre COVID-19, the domestic violence was present and it was the greatest violation of human rights. In the year 2018 and 2019, about 243 million women and girls have been exposed to sexual and physical violence by a familiar partner. Their age was between 15 to 49 years. The NFHS-4 data shows that married women who have ever experienced violence are around 31.1% in India (25.3% in urban areas and 34.1% in rural areas). The National Commission for Women (NCW) provides support and aid to women in who are stressed and facing domestic violence in India. According to NCW data, 123 complaints regarding domestic violence against women from 27 February to 22 March i.e. before the lockdown and 250 complaints from 23 March to 22 April i.e. during the lockdown were registered. Women are not safe inside their homes too. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, this number is likely to grow and it will have serious impacts on the women’s sexual, physical, mental and reproductive health and also to their ability to be a part of our male-centric society. Many women are now trapped at home with their abusers and they are at a high risk of violence as our country’s healthcare and law services struggle to respond them and bring justice to them. The domestic violence can be verbal, financial, psychological and sexual. It is rooted in our country since a long time. The male use this as a symbol of power and control. The current atmosphere of fear, anxiety, food insecurity, and unemployment has created feelings of insufficiency in men. Due to this the abusers feel a gigantic loss of control over their own lives and they exhaust out all of their frustration on the women in the house. As there is a lockdown, many people are spending their time online with no movement at all, the online forms of violence against girls like harassment, defamation and cyber bullying in the chat rooms, gaming platforms and more are likely to increase. Today almost every school-going child has access to social media but hardly have any knowledge about the privacy settings. They are sharing their personal information and this makes them vulnerable to all sorts of cyber harassment. Mostly the offenders lure girls and do crimes such as hacking, spam, virus, credit card frauds, trafficking in pornography, posting obscene pictures and sending fake messages, money laundering, etc. they share and upload Facebook photographs, Whatsapp messages and other information without knowing the depth of the consequences it will have on their lives. Most of the time children don’t know with whom they are chatting. There are many cases of suicide due to photos going viral in too. Girls are afraid telling their parents due to fear and threat given by the offender which causes more trouble.
Women working as social workers, doctors, nurses and teachers are at a high risk of violence as they navigate deserted urban and rural public places and transportation services under lockdown. The incident that happened in the hospitals and Covid care centres in Uttar Pradesh are a clear example of how safe our women nurses and doctors are in this pandemic. The infected patients were harassing and abusing them openly. Thanks to our Indian media who highlighted this incident and strict actions were brought against the wrongdoers. The cases of sexual exploitation and child marriage, leaving women and girls in fragile economic conditions and as refugees have also increased during this pandemic.
Through all of that, the children are particularly vulnerable in this pandemic era as the schools and colleges are closed and they are at home since last 5 months and particularly no games/sports activities and due to this the mental stress/depression will definitely occur. So, parents should keep a check on their children and what they are doing. They must guide them carefully and engage them in the online studies, competitions, yoga, meditation, etc. Accessing online apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, etc. should be avoided or made limited under supervision as this also may lead to harassments, depressions, violence, etc. They should be encouraged both spiritually and emotionally in this challenging time. Parents should also try to keep peace and harmony in their homes for spreading positivity. They should talk with their child about the problems and stresses that they are facing. The children should be kept active and physically healthy and they should be made understood how to deal with stress. There are various Child Protection Centres and Helplines like ACPHA (Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Act) and Children Helpline International to counsel, help and motivate children.
Steps taken to protect women -
The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres in April 2020 had appealed to end all forms of violence starting from war zones to people’s homes and focus on how to end the pandemic and its consequences as soon as possible. The government authorities, women’s civil rights and human rights commissions have highlighted increasing reports of domestic violence during this crisis; they have titled it as an emergency and also demanded the government for immediate help and shelter. Some steps can be surely taken to stop the violence against women -
The states while making laws to protect women rights must include the scale of human suffering. Their approach must be gender-sensitive and guarantee life free of discrimination and violence and include sexual as well as reproductive health services.
The Women helplines, online counselling and psycho-social support should be boosted using technology-based solutions such as SMS and social media and these should also be expanded by using networks so that it can reach women with no access to phones or internet.
The Police and judiciary service must ensure that incidents of violence against girls and women are given high priority with no indemnity for criminals.
The private sector can also help women by sharing information, warning their women staffs of the facts and the dangers of crimes such as domestic violence and also encourage them to be positive.
Priority measures should be given to them who are the victims of domestic violence. The government authorities shouldn’t be dismissive of the domestic violence complaints.
The electronic media can also spread awareness about the crimes against women that are laid down under the Indian Penal Code in vernacular languages.
Proper attention must be paid upon the effects of this pandemic, so that women can balance themselves between their professional and personal lives and be economically independent rather than moving to an unpaid work. Accessing online apps like Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, etc. should be avoided or made limited under supervision as this also may lead to harassments, depressions, violence, etc. They should be encouraged both spiritually and emotionally in this challenging time. Parents should also try to keep peace and harmony in their homes for spreading positivity. They should talk with their girl child about the problems and stresses that they are facing. They should be kept active and physically healthy and they should be made understood how to deal with stress.
Steps taken to protect children-
Children restrained with their parents, carers, and siblings may have been unprotected to an increase of violent behaviour on the part of family members, as they are facing increased pressure and stress in this pandemic crisis. During the period of confinement, children had even less access to professionals and government staffs to whom they can report physical violence, abuse or even sexual violence. In many cases, teenagers would report incidences to their best friends, so parents should keep an ear out for such information from their child and report incidences as appropriate. On the other hand, an increase was also expected and seen in domestic or interfamily violence, where most of the victims will be women or children.
In these circumstances and beyond it is important that the state, government officials and NGOs sectors should fully maintain all online services operational to report the occurrence or suspicion of physical or sexual violence.
In conclusion, the crimes against women and children in this Covid-19 pandemic is already testing us in ways most of us have never experienced and expected before, providing mental, physical, emotional and economic shocks too. The violence and harassment that is emerging now as a dark feature of this pandemic is a mirror and a challenge to our values, our ethics, our flexibility and humanity. The government is introducing as well as implementing legislations but totally depending on them it is not correct. We must not only survive from the coronavirus, but emerge with women, girls and children as a potent and influencing force and help them to pass this time and in future too. This can only be possible by a shared ambition and global solidarity.
The sources used in the above document are,
By Sushree Ava
ULC, Bhubaneswar, Odisha