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COVID-19: Sexual harassment on the rise

A recent report from CARE International* shows that child marriage and child abuse are increasing in the Northeastern Nigerian states as an effect of COVID-19. Further deteriorating the existing problems already faced by some women amid the pandemic, including sexual and gender-based violence, and limited access to healthcare. 

The report confirms that COVID-19 has increased the risk of teenage pregnancy, with girls out of school and with lower access to health services. Through interviews with 109 people during May this year in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe, Care International reported a heightened risk for girls from lower-income families forced into early child marriage. The main reason from families forcing their children into child-marriages is a need to reduce the number of children to feed in their homes.

“The congested situation in camps is making families to give their girls into early/force marriage.” – Female, humanitarian worker, Borno

In general, the report finds several risk areas which have worsened since the pandemic hit Nigeria. The risk of sexual exploitation is particularly high for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) who can no longer leave their camps due to restricted movements; thus, reducing their access to goods and services. 49% of people see reduced access to services as humanitarians struggle to reach the camps; this increases the rates of transactional sex and sexual exploitation. Female IDPs and humanitarian workers reported that sexual harassment is rampant at critical services points. 

Even when abusers are caught, there seems to be little help; reports also show that an overwhelmed judicial system is allowing police and perpetrators to act with impunity. 

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Making sure the judicial system can handle the perpetrators is of course of urgent need, whilst addressing gaps in public education and the legislative system. To address these gaps, we must:

  • Increase awareness and educate the public on gender-based violence. Governmental bodies and civil society organisations should carry on this vital role
  • Pass human rights legislation and other policies to address the roots of gender inequality which can seed the ground for higher levels of gender-based violence. Last month, Senators voted down a bill to recognise spousal sexual violence in the country’s Criminal Code Act – which widens the gap in the fight against sexual and gender based violence.

Legislators have a crucial role to play in ensuring that Nigeria’s laws take a strong stance against sexual and gender-based violence to protect survivors and prevent further cases

*Data from Care International 1st of August report: Rapid Gender Analysis Northeast Nigeria