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Displaced women and girls face surge in forced marriage & trafficking amid pandemic

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COVID-19Forced Marriage

A new report has warned that displaced women and girls are facing surging rates of gender-based violence during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, including human trafficking and forced marriage.

The economic and societal impacts of the pandemic, including the lockdowns and border closures enforced to fight its spread, have increased the risk of refugee women and girls facing these forms of exploitation, according to the report by Refugees International.

According to Devon Cone, the organization’s senior advocate for women and girls, the additional economic stress faced by countless refugee families around the world has exacerbated existing patterns of gender-based violence and exploitation.

But in a now-familiar double blow to anti-slavery efforts, the pandemic has also affected governments’ and organizations’ ability to address this rise in exploitation.

For example, Cone said that agencies are experiencing difficulties monitoring trends, making data even more unreliable than it already was and hampering mitigation efforts.

The Independent reports:

[Cone] said: “As options for safety and economic sustainability for families decrease with economic devastation, lockdown and border closures, gender-based violence increases. Also a lot of service providers which support women and girls who experience violence are operating at reduced capacity or closed altogether. 

“The added stress and financial insecurity that families are suffering also increases the risk of gender-based violence and especially intimate partner violence. It is exacerbating existing patterns and increasing those trends. Finally, on top of that, measures to mitigate the spread of coronavirus are making the gender-based violence harder to address.”

The report is the latest warning of the threat the pandemic and its economic impact poses to at-risk women and girls.

The United Nations’ sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA) estimated in April that the pandemic could significantly set back the fight against child marriage; the U.K.’s national domestic abuse helpline, meanwhile, experienced a surge following the lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

But the trend poses a particular threat to the many displaced women who flee their home countries and find themselves unable to access to government support at their destination.

One of the recommendations in Refugees International’s report calls on officials to halt deportation of gender-based violence victims, and to provide protection to all regardless of their immigration status.

Freedom United has been campaigning since May for governments to follow official U.N. guidance and provide access to healthcare to all migrants during the pandemic, including those who are undocumented.

Over 90,000 supporters are calling on world governments to take action to tackle forced marriage in all its forms. Join the campaign and add your name today.

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