Trapped in lockdown: Domestic abuse during the COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19 has served as a grim reminder of the disparities facing women and children in Indonesia. As millions of people across the country try living in a new world of social distancing, personal movements have been limited, contact between families and friends has decreased, and support systems have become harder to access. In a trend seen around the globe, social distancing measures have led to a surge in domestic abuse cases throughout the pandemic.

This week, in honour of the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, Rumah Faye will be looking at the vulnerable position of women and children during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Abuse during coronavirus: More cases yet less attention

Violence towards women and children has increased steadily throughout the pandemic. Confined to their homes, many women have lost the extended support networks which had previously helped them. In August, the National Commission on Violence Against Woman reported that nearly two-thirds of reported cases of violence during the COVID-19 pandemic were domestic abuse cases.

When compared with previous numbers, this indicates that domestic abuses have increased by around 12% during the pandemic. Between January and July this year, over 4,000 cases of violence against women and children were reported.

Alongside this, money woes, unemployment, close confinement, and health pressures create stress within households which can lead to physical and psychological abuse. In much of Indonesian society, women are still expected to manage households, buy food, and care for the children. With the closure of schools comes the extra pressure of having to act as a teacher too.

Skyrocketing unemployment in Indonesia and rising food prices have led to families needing to adopt increasingly frugal lifestyles. An estimated 1.3 million Indonesian’s are expected to fall below the poverty line this year.

For Indonesia’s most vulnerable, these factors will exacerbate existing disparities. A survey conducted by the Indonesian Women’s Coalition (KPI) and the Association of Indonesian Women with Disabilities (HWDI)  found that disabled women were particularly vulnerable to abuse in 2020. Their collaborative survey found that 80 percent of disabled women said they had experienced abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 70 percent saying they had experienced sexual abuse and a further 10 percent saying they had experienced sexual exploitation.

The pandemic has highlighted the vulnerabilities of Indonesia’s children too. According to a recently released government survey, more than half of all Indonesian children have been victims of verbal or physical abuse during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The four million children deemed ‘neglected’ by the government are also particularly vulnerable. The COVID-19 Pandemic has brought more opportunities for predators, who often use promises of safe accommodation and food, to target many of the 16,000 homeless children begging on the streets. Adding to this, many shelters and safe houses for street children have closed because of COVID-19 precautions.

Despite these worrying developments, Indonesia’s house of representatives dropped an anti-sexual violence bill (RUU P-KS)  from their agenda in July, because they claimed it was “too difficult to discuss.”

Longstanding issues and lacklustre responses:

The COVID-19 Pandemic has highlighted Indonesia’s longstanding struggles with domestic abuse against women and children. The National Commission on Violence against Women recorded 348,000 cases of domestic abuse in 2017, and a further 431,000 cases in 2019.

Trafficking too remains a major and underreported issue as well.  In 2017 it was estimated that between 70,000 to 80,000 children were being trafficked for sex in Indonesia. On top of this, it is thought that roughly 30 percent of individuals working in the commercial sex industry are children.

Child marriage is prevalent across the country too, with an estimated 23 percent of women in their early twenties were married before the age of 18.

The Indonesian government has spoken out against child sexual abuse, yet little progress has been made in recent years. This is mainly the result of cultural sensitivities surrounding the issue, along with legal and legislative challenges. Practices such as child marriage and gender-based discrimination have been legitimized by political and religious groups through religious interpretations.

There are also contradictions within Indonesia’s legal framework. For example, the penal code states the minimum age of sexual consent is 15 years old for girls, but no mention is made for boys. Another example is that Indonesia’s 2007 anti-trafficking law is inconsistent with international law as it requires demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion, for child sex activity to constitute a crime, and therefore doesn’t criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. In addition to these legislative flaws, the minimum age to marry is now raised up by three years to 19  but parents are still allowed to request exemptions so that their children can marry even younger.

Under prevailing law, sexual abuse victims are not entitled to any assistance from the state. All fees, whether for treatment or rehabilitation, must be paid for by the victim, as well as any legal costs. Roughly half of all sexual violence cases against women with disabilities were never legally processed.

COVID-19 has stalled important anti-abuse legislation and shifted focus away from the violence that hundreds of thousands of Indonesia’s most vulnerable people face every day. But as the pandemic continues, so too will domestic abuse and gender-based violence. The Indonesian governments’ lacklustre response to these issues’ conflicts with its human rights obligations and helping amend these issues should continue to be one of top priorities.

Penulis: Maxwell Lowe
Penyunting: Mellysa Anastasya

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