In the time of lockdown that has resulted from the global pandemic of COVID-19, billions of people are staying at their shelter (I am not using house because there are many homeless also). Without any doubt this is certainly a protective measure to fight against this deadly disease. Yet within this protective measure, most vulnerable groups are at risk of severe violence. From the social theory, the vulnerable groups refer most marginalised people of the community. However, I am putting emphasis mostly on the- women, children, and people with disabilities. Study says, these people are most vulnerable and they are always victim of violence. The curve of the violence is drastically growing at this time and therefore, seeing and analysing the pandemic from a different lens with alternatives are highly required.
In the developed countries, government, right based organisations, civil societies and their partners are seeking more support to stop domestic violence during this pandemic. The demand of safe, emergency and additional shelter has been heightened. One of the International Organisation has reported that, in Australia, the request for help has been escalated 40 percent more. This quarantine is fostering the tension, created from lack of security (food and other), health and money. Bangladesh is not an exception in this dimension.Especially in the rural areas, women, children, and people with disabilities are extreme victim of overall sufferings. In this close door situation, these groups of people are at high risk of violence of any form. Service discrepancy will make the situation worsen in responding to COVID-19. We all know, even before the COVID-19, violence of all forms prevailed and those vulnerable people had to suffer a lot.
As per United Nations report, in the last 12 months, 243 million women and girls between the ages of 15-49 across the world had been victims of sexual and physical violence by their intimate partner. UN further believes, during this pandemic the number is likely to grow more and that will have multiple impacts on the life of the most vulnerable people. Any forms of violence, in addition to this serious health issue will have severe impact on the wellbeing, mental and physical health of the people. Their ability to participate in the process of social and economic recovery will be jeopardised.
Before COVID -19, all forms of violence have been reported (regardless of numbers)through the Bangladesh government’s emergency toll free number, or people used to go to local police for further support. In this current situation, making report, getting response, going to police station to seek support is a major challenge for those vulnerable people. Absence of these supports at this time will make further disruptions as health care system could be compromised or fail to provide much needed support to the survivors against any forms of sexual and physical violence anywhere. As per the international statistics, 1in 4 countries have laws that protect the rights of the vulnerable people from any forms of violence. In Bangladesh, there are many laws and policies for the protection and prevention of the most vulnerable people in the community. However, in reality, support systems are still failing to provide the preliminary required services.
COVID-19 has already caused major economic crisis. It needs to be remembered, economic crisis is the provocative element for any type of violence. Therefore by any circumstances, this pandemic is making the vulnerable more vulnerable. In general, women, children and people with disabilities face multiple forms of discrimination and to mitigate those multiple discriminations, various stakeholders are working collaboratively with additional economic support and incentive packages. If it is not dealt wisely on time then huge additional economic and psycho-social support will be required to ensure both social and legal justice. UN secretary General has already called for all governments to take initiate preventive measure in their national plan of action to address all forms of violence against vulnerable groups of the community. Additional shelters, safety and protection measures along with specific funding and effort are the key elements against violence. Engaging international and national NGOs and other stakeholders, creating awareness in the local community will certainly play a pivotal role to prevent the most vulnerable people from further vulnerability.
COVID-19 has already given us physical, emotional and mental shock. Any additional violence will shake those vulnerable groups more. Therefore, we all should work collaboratively to be resilient and powerful. This preparation will help us for rapid recovery.
The writer is an independent consultant and international humanitarian worker with Masters in both International Development and Law from Australia