Increased risk for women and children during coronavirus lockdown
With no school or work to go to, children and women may find themselves in a lockdown with their abusers, with limited ability to escape dangerous situations.
Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu has called for communities to be especially aware of potential abuse going on around them.
“We are calling on all organisations that do work around gender-based violence to continue their work,” Zulu said in a televised interview.
“The fact that we are in a lockdown, the fact that the coronavirus is our focus, does not mean we must lose sight of the violence against women and children. It is a South African scourge and it is important for us to continue fighting it, irrespective of what we are going through.”
Professor Catherine Ward from UCT’s department of psychology said the incidence of child abuse normally spiked while children were out of school and this would be exacerbated by the pressure and anxiety arising from the pandemic.
“Parents and children are living with increased stress, media hype and fear, all challenging our capacity for tolerance and long-term thinking. For many, the economic impact of the crisis increases parenting stress, abuse, and violence against children,” Ward said.
UCT has partnered with the World Health Organisation and UN Children’s Fund to provide resources for parents to keep children entertained and educated during the shutdown, occurring globally.
“Keeping your usual rules and routines in your household is especially important for children right now: it will help them feel safe,” Ward said. “It’ll help the grown-ups too; we all need to know where we stand and normal routines are a big help with that.”
Worldwide, nearly 80% of all enrolled children are now out of school, amounting to 1.37 billion children at home. With parents facing the uncertainty, stress and financial challenges arising from the pandemic, parenting is harder than ever. According to UCT, evidence shows “violence and vulnerability increase for children during periods of school closures associated with health emergencies”.
Meanwhile, the Department of Social Development has confirmed shelters for victims of abuse will remain open and operational throughout the lockdown. Spokesperson Esther Lewis reminded communities that “services to victims of crime and violence is an essential service and the departmental and civil society organisations will continue to provide victim-empowerment services through the provision of shelter and psychosocial support”.
The department’s local offices will remain open. “Social workers are available to assist with emergency statutory services. which include victim empowerment, assisting children at high risk, child justice and probation services, and services to persons with disabilities, as well as older persons at high risk,” Lewis said.
“These services can be accessed by calling the Gender-Based Violence Command Centre on 0800 428 428. The call centre is operational 24/7. Alternatively, services can be accessed by calling local offices, or by reports to the SAPS.”