Press Release

On the International Day of the Girl Child, the IACHR Urges States to Provide Increased Protection to Girls and Adolescents During the COVID-19 Pandemic

October 11, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - On October 11, on the occasion of the International Day of the Girl Child, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) to provide increased protection to girls and adolescents, particularly during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission asks States to take measures that incorporate a gender perspective and to anticipate all forms of violence that are made worse by this health emergency context.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission has received with concern reports of an increase in violence against women and girls, mainly within the family. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable during this health emergency and in the context of social isolation measures that often imply their isolation alongside their abusers. Girls and adolescents—an estimated 107 million individuals in 2020—are especially affected by this situation, given their age and their condition as developing persons.

The recent United Nations report on the impact of the pandemic on Latin America and the Caribbean noted that domestic violence, femicide, and other forms of sexual violence have increased during compulsory isolation and lockdown measures. An examination conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that the pandemic could give rise to millions of new cases of violence, child marriage, and adolescent pregnancies.

Even before the pandemic, Latin America and the Caribbean were already plagued by these issues that are now getting worse. The report State of the World Population 2020 published by the UNFPA says that one in four girls in the region get married or enter informal unions before turning 18. More than 60 per cent of these girls belong to the population group with the least resources and are therefore more vulnerable to suffering gender-based violence and early pregnancy. The Commission is particularly concerned about the fact that the region has the second-highest adolescent fertility rate in the world, at around 12%.

The IACHR further finds that the pandemic has deepened poverty and inequality, which disproportionately affect girls and adolescents. Data gathered by the World Food Programme show that the number of individuals who are food insecure in the region could rise from 5 million to 16 million in 2020, as a consequence of the pandemic. Regarding inequality, the Commission is concerned that women and girls devote three times more time than men to domestic chores and care activities, which have increased due to social isolation and to the need to assist children during online schooling.

The Commission therefore stresses that girls and adolescents are disproportionately affected by this health emergency and that the State must grant them special protection to safeguard their rights. As noted in the thematic report Violence and Discrimination against Women and Girls, this special protection is justified on the basis of differences—relative to adults—in terms of possibilities and challenges for the effective exercise and full observance, defense, and enforceability of their rights. States therefore have a heightened role as guarantors, which includes a duty to take action and adopt policies to prevent all forms of violence and discrimination.

The IACHR particularly stresses that all measures taken to contain the pandemic must take into consideration intergenerational and gender perspectives and note the structural inequality and subordination faced by women, girls, and adolescents based on their gender. The superimposition of various forms of violence and discrimination must also be taken into account by States, who need to identify specific vulnerability contexts faced by girls and adolescents given their age, ethnic or racial background, origin, and sexual orientation, among other factors.

Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, Rapporteur for the Rights of Girls, Boys and Adolescents of the IACHR, highlights “it is essential that the States advance in their efforts to guarantee the participation of girls and adolescents in the defense of their rights and the improvement of gender stereotypes ”. He also highlighted the importance of education on sexual and reproductive rights, to face the scourge of early pregnancy, forced motherhood and sexual violence.

The Commission stresses the recommendations it made to States in Resolution No. 01/20, Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas, asking them to increase protection for girls and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic given the specific conditions these groups face based on their gender and their status as developing individuals. The Commission further highlights the importance of ensuring that girls are involved in the development of any response and prevention policies, in compliance with their right held in Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In emergency situations like the one the world is currently going through, it is essential for States to provide accessible information to children and adolescents and to allow them to take part in the process of making decisions that will directly or indirectly affect them.

 A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 250/20