Global lockdowns resulting in 'horrifying surge' in domestic violence, U.N. warns

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U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres speaking at a virtual news briefing at United Nations headquarters in New York last week. Guterres said Sunday that measures to stop domestic violence should be part of national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres speaking at a virtual news briefing at United Nations headquarters in New York last week. Guterres said Sunday that measures to stop domestic violence should be part of national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Xinhua News Agency/Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, citing a sharp rise in domestic violence amid global coronavirus lockdowns, called on governments around the world to make addressing the issue a key part of their response to the pandemic.

Speaking late Sunday, Guterres said "violence is not confined to the battlefield."

"For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest — in their own homes," he said, appealing "for peace at home — and in homes — around the world."

"We know lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing COVID-19, but they can trap women with abusive partners," Guterres said. "Over the past weeks, as the economic and social pressures and fear have grown, we have seen a horrifying surge in domestic violence."

The secretary-general said in some countries "the number of women calling support services has doubled" while "healthcare providers and police are overwhelmed and understaffed."

"I urge all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plan to COVID-19," he said.

Last week, Guterres issued a similar appeal, saying the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated an end to violence worldwide.

"The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war," Guterres said.

Domestic violence rates have surged in France and South Africa, according to Voice of America. In South Africa, authorities said there were nearly 90,000 reports of violence against women in the first week of a lockdown.

Since the start of the pandemic, the U.N. reports that Lebanon and Malaysia have seen the number of calls to help lines double, compared with the same month last year. In China, the number of calls has tripled, according to the U.N.

In Malaysia, the government launched, and then was quickly forced to retract, a controversial campaign advising women not to nag their husbands and to refrain from being "sarcastic" when asking for help with household chores.

In Australia — where the government has promised some $91 million to address the problem as part of its COVID-19 response plan — Google reports a 75% increase in online searches for help with domestic violence.

Meanwhile, in Turkey, activists say the killing of women has risen sharply since a stay-at-home order was issued on March 11.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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