- Amnesty International says there was a spike in the abuse of women in southern Africa during the Covid-19 lockdown.
- Poorer countries diverted sexual healthcare budgets to emergency Covid-19 relief.
- In South Africa, more than 34 000 babies were born to girls aged 17 or younger.
An Amnesty International (AI) report revealed that Covid-19 lockdown measures had a downside effect in the fight against sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) in southern Africa because homes became "cages of violence and abuse".
In the report, which coincides with the 16 Days of Activism against GBV (25 November to 10 December), and marked by the United Nations, AI claims that strictly enforced lockdowns led to "shocking levels of gender-based violence across southern Africa, including a horrifying rise in sexual abuse of girls, some as young as nine".
Zimbabwe, one of the poorer countries in the southern African region, was hard hit by the lockdowns. Women Affairs Minister Sithembiso Nyoni in May this year presented a report, which showed a sharp rise in teenage pregnancies during the lockdown period that kept children out of school.
"A total of 4 959 got impregnated in such a short period and this means that nearly 5 000 of our girls risk losing their educational opportunity if they do not pursue re-admission," she said, adding that 1 774 girls became wives before attaining the legal age of majority, which is 18 years.
The AI report also says all southern African countries failed to have mechanisms in place to avoid another pandemic - child pregnancies - in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"While these restrictive measures aimed to stem the spread of Covid-19, support services for women and girls subjected to violence and abuse were not taken into consideration in the design of the measures to control the spread of Covid-19," the report said, adding:
This time last year, Botswana set up 25 gender violence courts to bring justice to victims of sexual and domestic abuse. While a noble idea, gender activists argued the courts would not deter would-be offenders, besides bringing them to justice.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) estimates that about 70 percent of women in Botswana have experienced one form or the other of abuse and sexual violence.
On the other hand, says the AI report, more than 600 South African girls - aged between nine and 10 - gave birth during the first lockdown period, while more than 34 000 babies were born to girls aged 17 or younger.
In Zambia, during the first half of this year, the police recorded 4 000 cases of GBV, of which 804 were sexual offences.
In Zimbabwe and Botswana, the baby boom was attributed to the diversion of resources from sexual healthcare to Covid-19 emergency relief.
"In certain countries in the region, such as Zimbabwe and Botswana, sexual and reproductive health services were the first to be cut when states were redirecting resources to Covid-19 interventions," says the report.
The theme for this year's 16 Days of Activism against GBV is: "Orange the world: End violence against women now!"
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