Paraguay, considered the heart of South America, has managed the health crisis caused by the COVID-19 thanks to the early and strong measures taken by the government since the beginning of the alarm in this region of the world. The level of infection is moderate and manageable, with 220 infected, 70 recovered and 9 dead to date1, for a population of approximately 7,252,6722.
One of the measures that the government implemented was social isolation (mandatory quarantine), which gave excellent results regarding the contagion level of the virus. However, this measure has been a detonator for a worrying and considerable increase in reports of violence against women, girls and adolescents who are keeping the quarantine.
It is no secret that at this time the public and health forces, the media and almost all government services are focused on controlling the number of people infected. Additionally, there is the priority of food and economic contingency. Undoubtedly, these are priority aspects that cannot be neglected; however, as a society we cannot allow the impact of this pandemic on domestic violence and sexual abuse of children and adolescents to be lost sight of. It is imperative that we focus and collaborate to protect these vulnerable and invisible sectors and ensure that their rights are guaranteed, protecting them from violence and exploitation.
The increase in telephone calls received on hotlines is a clear indicator of this epidemic of gender-based violence that is emerging as a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics corroborate this premise: in March 2019, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported 417 calls denouncing aggressions to the women’s violence hotline (137); in March 2020, the number of calls for help rose to 626, and in the first half of April 2020 alone, 325 calls were reported3.
Contextualizing the situation of violence of which women, girls and adolescents are frequent victims, it can be mentioned that, in 2018, 57 women were murdered and 55 attempts of feminicide were registered. The acts were committed in the victim’s home and 80.3% of the aggressors have had some kind of relationship with the victim (friendship, kinship, sentimental). More than half of the victims were mothers who left a total of 40 orphaned children and adolescents. 21.3% of the victims of feminicide in Paraguay are under 20 years old, while 37.8% are women between 21 and 30 years old4.
Similarly, adolescent and child sexual violence presents unsettling statistics. Between 2010 and 2016 there were about 650 births per year to girls aged 10-14, and about 20,000 births per year to teenage mothers aged 15-195. In the last decade (2004-2013), there was an increase of 62.6% in births in the 10-14 year age group. In 2018, the Public Prosecutor’s Office recorded 2,608 cases of sexual abuse of minors, compared to 2,461 the previous year. These abuses led to the birth of 614 children. From January to April 2019, 985 reports of sexual abuse of minors were registered6.
In March of this year, UNDP launched a call for proposals that could respond to the emergency and/or situations generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to this worrying context, the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) in Paraguay, under the leadership of UNDP, and with the participation of UN agencies as partners, presented the project «Paraguay protects women and children from violence in the context of the COVID-19 emergency».
This selected Project has the following objectives:
- a) To strengthen the country’s response to the problem of protecting women and children and adolescents from violence in the context of the Covid-19 emergency, including effectively and efficiently functioning care services in urban and rural areas, with inter-institutional coordination of efforts and mobilization of complementary resources from civil society and the private sector;
- b) promote the prevention of violence against women and children, providing information on existing care mechanisms in the context of the Covid-19 emergency, easily disseminated in the rural sector, including the use of the Guarani language; through a campaign supported by a multisectoral alliance composed of UN agencies, Social Cabinet ministries, private media groups, telecommunication companies and social media platforms
In regards to strengthening the response, the task is focused on activating the expanded inter-agency work on violence prevention, which involves the bodies that must urgently respond to complaints. The aim is to ensure the continuity of the services provided – by both the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Ministry of Children and Adolescents – for the prevention and care of victims/survivors of gender-based violence.
Additionally, with regard to information on prevention and care of violence, it was proposed to disseminate existing procedures, services and channels for dealing with cases of violence against women and children and adolescents, as well as prevention measures. Work will be done to raise citizens’ awareness of care work and the distribution of domestic tasks with a gender equality approach, and to protect the rights of women domestic workers.
The project will last six months and it aims to leave strengthened capacities in the participating institutions to deal with complaints, so that the response will be developed within the framework of the expanded round table on violence against women, children and adolescents (in coordination with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Ministry of Children and Adolescents and other institutions); and that they will use an efficient and effective response protocol so that those who require it can have access to rapid and efficient care.
It is worth mentioning that all actions referred to the communication strategy (messages and tools) will be validated by experts in the thematic areas of gender, violence, children, adolescents, domestic employment, and unpaid work. The aim will be to achieve equal distribution of work in the home and to protect the rights of paid domestic workers.
The quarantine and the national campaign «#StayAtHome» protects us from COVID-19. We must ensure this same protection for women, children and adolescents for whom, many times «being at home does not mean being safe. Domestic and gender-based violence is on the rise. At the same time, women risk being left behind in the socio-economic recovery of countries,» Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.