Liberia: Sexual and Domestic Abuse Seems to Have Intensified During the Lockdown in Liberia

Introduction

The limits imposed on movement by countries around the world have forced people to spend much time at home or closer to home which has led to increase in social tension, sexual abuse and domestic violence in homes and communities. According to previous statistics, sexual and domestic based violence was high in Liberia before the impact of COVID-19 and has most likely increased since the lockdown. Statistics from the Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection, cited by UN Women Magazine, from January to September 2017, indicates a total of 892 sexual and gender-based violence cases were reported, of which 506 were rape cases, and 475 involved children.

According to statistic from the Gender Based Violence Unit of the Ministry of Justice reviewed and cited by the FrontpageAfrica magazine and media outlet, since the COVID-19 emergency from January to June of 2020, the number of aggravated assault, sodomy with criminal attempt, and rape has reached 600 cases and it is currently being investigated. Cited from the reviewed by FRontPageAfrica, from January to July, there have been a total of 450 incidents of statutory rape, 100 cases of rape, 55 cases of gang related rape and 10 cases involving sodomy. On the contrary, it is most likely that more cases are unreported therefore undocumented.

The partial lock-down implemented by Government is seems to increase social tensions in Liberia leading to sexual abuse and domestic violence due to the difficult socio-economic condition in Liberia which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Discussions

Coronavirus (COVID-19) emerged or was first spotted in China in December 2019 in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei. Due to how rapidly it is predicted to be transmitted from human to human interaction, the world has been advised by leaders, medical practitioners, WHO and other agencies that to limit the spread and decrease the death fatality, social or physical distancing must be observed which also involves the stay-home-method. In Liberia, Government temporarily shut down schools, churches and the general economy at large. Government also closed Liberia's borders to travellers from countries with more than 200 covid-19 cases.

Employees from both the formal and informal economy that are not working currently have no means of compensation. Further, the Liberian Government does not have the resources to provide temporary compensation to Liberians who are currently not actively working in the informal economy and a large part of the formal economy. , All the shut down businesses have employees who are now effectively out of work without compensation or some form of social safety net. The partial lock down is as deadly for some Liberians as contracting the Covid-19 virus because they do not have income to meet their basic food needs. For most of these people, their biggest problem is how they will find food to eat the next day.

Liberia was already economically disabled because of the very serious economic challenges and the bad governance the country has encountered over the years. Partial quarantine or lock down can be particularly challenging for parents and families with existing social vulnerabilities. With the depth and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic that is still uncertain, it is possible that households will feel some serious economic shock especially among the majority that have been economically vulnerable and could intensify the magnitude of abuse in homes for women and children. So, what is the implemented road-map the government has strategized for those victimized during this pandemic?

To be precise, Liberia is already engulfed with violence against women but it can be even worse and devastating when families and spouses are forced to partial quarantine or lock down without a penny to feed on or in an abusive environment. This certainly is linked to a myriad of risk factors for increased violence within a society. In fact, the regional and global nature and associated fear and uncertainty that this pandemic has installed combined with the high level of poverty in Liberia provide an enabling environment that could intensify diverse forms of violence that already existed during this lock down.

Amid- the coronavirus pandemic, one area of grave concern in Liberia must be the safety of women and children. Gender-based violence in this crisis is spreading globally with many countries reporting an increase in domestic and intimate partner violence. For instances, the UN Secretary General Guterres on the 6 of April 2020 spoke calling for a "domestic violence ceasefire during this horrifying global surge"; the European parliament on April 7, also issued a press release asking member states to increase support to domestic violence victims, and India on the other hand, since the lock down has seen a huge increase in violence activities against women according to Government data Asia Times magazine. Many countries are seeing cases of gender-based more than double at a time where people are being ordered to stay home. Sexual violence in other countries is speckled during this quarantine period because it has been given a huge priority. In West Africa for example, Nigeria had designated Mirabel center in Lagos as a center where victims of sexual and domestic violence cases are reported. Liberia on the other hand has being too slow to tackle sexual violence and abused with less documented effort made to show that it considers gender- based violence essential during this pandemic.

Due to the fact that the economy of Liberia has been fragile with very high unemployment, it is becoming increasingly clear that the many measures deemed necessary to control the spread of the disease are also restricting victims to distancing themselves from their abuser. To worsen the matter, the government of Liberia seemed to have declared the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection a non-essential Government entity during the COVID-19 lockdown. So, it is difficult to help victims in such time or even acquire tangible data to indicate the total numbers of victims as other countries are set to do. Liberia Child Right activist madam Satta Fatumata Sheriff in April 2020, frowned on the decision made by the Government to labeled gender ministry as non-essential and in her publication on FrontPage Africa, she urges the government to form a committee that could address such issue as the matter concerning women and children is very essential and need proper redress.

The Liberia Senate has established sub-committees to exercise oversight over various aspect of the covid-19 response: such as health response, security, utilities, the re-cast Budget, the management of donor funds, small bank loans and stimulus program and COVID-19 emergency relief fund without the inclusion of sexual and gender based violence as one of the major issues to consider ; it is saddening that Liberia is deaf to responding to physical violence and violence against women and children. Violence, especially rape and intimate partner violence in Liberia seems to be ignored. Notwithstanding, Liberia is party to a number of international human rights treaties and instruments, under which it has the obligation to fight violence and gender-based violence but it seems that the government is inept to this issue or deliberately ignoring it which shows that Liberia is not essentially considering sexual abuse and domestic violence seriously during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Aside from sexual Violence against women, people within communities can be brutal with each other when they spend longer time confined together particular in homes without food electricity, pipe borne water, television and other basic social necessities.

"A hungry man is an angry man." It is most likely that the mental state of a person changes when he is depressed under stress causing them to behave abnormal. Violence is likely to exacerbate in families and communities when everyone has to stay home in a depressed social condition. Prolonged school closures and joblessness could also contribute to increase in domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, rape and many other abuses. Therefore, pointed issues such as these are not to be ignored in any society because it is as dangerous as the pandemic that is being fought.

Conclusions

The Government needs to develop a road map to mitigate the risk of domestic violence and violence against women during this pandemic.

The Government should establish violence response center in every county and every county district with trained staff from the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection and the Liberia National Police to attend to the needs of victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Awareness against domestic and sexual violence should be conducted on every television and radio station to help stop it existence during this pandemic. People must be made aware of the signs of domestic violence and how and who they can approach for help.

The people should stop playing the blaming game; telling victims that " you are at fault, for example: why did you wear that short dress or skirt"; victims blaming doesn't only traumatize the victim further but discourages them to stand up and speak against the violence they are going through. Don't justify violence; stop blaming the victim and help fight against It.

During this pandemic Sexual abuse and domestic violence against women should be a major pillar in the Government of Liberia framework to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection should be activated to play a major role in curtailing sexual abuse and domestic violence during this pandemic. If the issue of sexual abuse and domestic violence is not taken seriously during this pandemic, the scare would remain on Liberians long after the pandemic becomes history.

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