COVID-19 Leads to Increase in SGBV Cases

By: R. Joyclyn Wea

MONROVIA-The national lockdown imposed by the government to counter the spread of the coronavirus in the country has created a fertile ground for violence against women and girls if the report from the Ministry of Gender Children, Social Protection is anything to consider.

Data obtained by this reporter from the gender ministry’s report shows an increase in the already existing high level of violence against women and girls in Liberia.

“The Covid-19 led to an increase in harassment and sexual abuse at the time that services including rule of law, health, and other services were overshadowed by the response to pandemic,” it says.

Data obtained from the MGCSP indicates that in 2019, a total of 2,708 cases were reported of which 2,141 (79%) accounted for rape, gang rape and sodomy accounted while 567 (20%) for other forms of GBV. Sixty-eight percent out of the 79% were survivors below the age of 18 years which is far less than the 2020 statistic.

Within just nine months of the following year, in which coronavirus hit the country, (between January– September 2020) 1,715 GBV cases were reported. Of the total 1,388 or (80%) constitutes Rape, Gang rape, and Sodomy. 151 (8.8%) accounted for other forms of GBV. While 477 GBV cases were reported in the third quarter of 2020.

Out of the total cases recorded in the third quarters of 2020, rape account for 312 or 65%, physical assault or domestic violence accounts for 11.9%, and sexual assault account for 7.4%.

The MGSCP data also shows that rape, sodomy, and gang rape 69.7% was the highest reported GBV incident follows by sexual assault 11%. Child rape accounted for 64% of the total GBV cases reported during the three months period

The record further shows GBV actors provided medical and psychosocial services, security or protection, legal aid services, and made referrals for 477 GBV survivors during the third quarter of July, August, and September 2020.

Experts and advocates were concerned that movement restrictions and lockdowns – while helpful in stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus – can leave victims trapped with their abusers.

“Women can use the window of free-movement time if they need to escape the house, but the possibility of being locked up with an abuser for the whole day is worrisome,” Vickjune Wutoh, a young female rights advocate, said at a forum last year.

Quarantine is necessary to reduce the community spread of the Coronavirus disease, but it also has serious psychological and socially disruptive consequences. This is known as the quarantine paradox that also includes a surge in the cases of gender-based violence.

In May, the United Nations (UN) issued an alert about the alarming rise of rape and domestic violence during the coronavirus lockdown. Proclaiming a “Shadow Pandemic,”

The rise in SGBV cases provoked a mass protest in Monrovia last year. The protest, which organizers said was meant to prevail on the government to declare rape a national emergency was triggered by  the use of a razor blade, allegedly by a 19-year-old boy to mutilate the genitals of a 3-year-old girl, which he reportedly thought would have given him easy access.

Dubbed “March for Justice, the protests brought over 5,000 people, mostly youth, clad in total black into the streets as a sign of solidarity for victims and survivors of rape. They held placards with inscriptions such as “Justice for all Liberian girls and women”, “Stop Rape” and “She could be your daughter”.

The situation prompted President George Weah to declare rape a national emergency and outline plans to appoint a special prosecutor to handle rape cases, create a national sex offenders registry and earmark $2 million to address the problem.

However, the MGCSP report also indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated key risk factors for VAWG, such as food shortages, unemployment, economic insecurity, school closures etc.

It further states that there has been an alarming increase in multiple forms of violence against women and girls, especially physical, psychological, sexual, and economic forms of domestic violence fueled by household economic and food insecurity and confined living conditions due to lockdown and social isolation measures many of whom remained unreported.

adequately reported and documented, it says, adding, “Rape is the most prevalent amongst the reported GBV incidences, especially against girls who are below 18 years old.”

In response to the statistics, the Organization for Women and Children (ORWOCH) Executive Director, Mmonbeydo Nadine Joah, says SGBV should have been part of the National Response on COVID knowing that women and girls’ issues are critical.

She believes the increase in SGBV cases to the COVID is squarely linked to the stay-home order instituted last year.

She stressed the need to invest in data and a uniform system that will help in tracking these cases when there is a pandemic of such.

Joah: “after this pandemic, there must be a manual for an emergency situation such as the COVID and approach to addressing SGBVs. The manual should be updated every time whether there is a pandemic or not.”

She bewailed “We don’t know what is happening under COVID-19 because there is not sufficient data; we cannot go into every home and community to find out what is happening there. “ before the lockdown, we saw the number of cases coming up, but with the lockdown lot of abuses have been happening and we only managed to uncover a few.”.

Madam Joah further indicated that the peace and security of women and children depend largely on the government and as such it must work to improve their lives.

The women Advocate emphasized the need for women to be included in the COVID and other response initiatives and not just working at the back. “We need to be represented, and our issues need to be up there so that Liberia can be a place that everyone can enjoy freely, fairly, and make sure their issues are all addressed.”

This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), through its mobilizing media in the fight against COVID-19 in partnership with FrontPage Africa. 




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