Media contact: Jane Gardner, 0438 130 905/ [email protected] Photographs and case studies, as well as the full report are available for media use here. Interviews with experts in the field can be arranged via our Africa-region communications team.
Rates of violence against girls and women in Africa are soaring as COVID-19 intensifies and lockdowns continue, according to new research from the charity for girls’ equality Plan International and the African Child Policy Forum.
The Under Siege: Impact of COVID-19 on Girls in Africa report involved eye-witness accounts from girls across 55 African Union states, as well as interviews with politicians and aid workers. It shows a sharp increase in calls for help and first-hand accounts of violence and issues of hunger directly associated with COVID-19.
Plan International Australia has launched an urgent appeal to respond to the profound secondary impacts of the virus, including profound hunger, sexual assault and violence against children and girls (see: https://www.plan.org.au/appeal/covid-19-appeal/).
More than 120 million girls in Africa are currently out of school due to lockdowns across the continent, and many fear they may never be able to go back.
“For hundreds of thousands of girls, school is the only safe space they know, and the only source of a decent meal,” Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena said.
“These girls are reporting heightened anxiety under quarantine and confinement and many are reporting this situation has led to perpetrators’ of violence abusing their position, trust and authority.
“Young women and girls have told our researchers that they are often fearful to go to a hospital to seek healthcare or sexual and reproductive services. Even in emergency situations, they do so at the real risk of assault or arbitrary detention for curfew violations.”
Janet, 14, from Liberia, says: “My fear with this virus [COVID-19] is that women will really suffer. We will suffer over food. Men will abuse us. Because if I don’t have food and a boy has food, if I ask him for help, he will ask me for sex before he gives me some. This is the suffering I am talking about.”
The pandemic has also thrown millions of families – up to 29 million – further into extreme poverty and affected access to social services. Health systems have diverted attention from immunisation programs, sexual and reproductive services and high prevalence conditions such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and TB.
Halima, 16, from Niger, says: “I pray the government finds a solution to this disease as soon as possible, so girls like me can go back to school. My dream of becoming a doctor should not be broken, please.”
Girls with disabilities, girl domestic workers, girls living or working on the street and in urban slums, girls in institutional care, and in detention centres, displacement and refugee camps and stateless girls have especially been more severely affected.
“The stark reality is that in most African countries, many girls and children unfortunately live on the street. Now with hotels and shops closed and streets empty, these girls, who normally rely on food handouts from hotels and restaurants and on street trade, are now struggling for survival.”
About 56% of the urban population in sub-Saharan Africa is concentrated in overcrowded and poorly serviced slum dwellings and only 34% of the households have access to basic hand washing facilities, raising serious concerns in the context of COVID-19.
KEY FINDINGS OF THE UNDER SIEGE REPORT
Plan International Australia is supporting the ongoing global response to COVID-19 and ensuring that girls are not forgotten during this crisis. Visit https://www.plan.org.au/appeal/covid-19-appeal/ to learn more about our work during this pandemic and how your financial contribution could help.
Please visit the launch website at https://girls.africanchildforum.org for more information on the report. To request an interview with a spokesperson in Africa, please contact: