Covid-19 pandemic is having potentially catastrophic secondary impacts on the health of women and girls around the world.
Statistics from Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) show that from January to June 2157 defilement cases have been filed with many being impregnated by the defilers.
The RIB figures indicate that more than 11 girls on average were being defiled daily in the country for the past six months if schools.
This trend raises a lot of concern given that the country is already grappling with teenage pregnancies.
According to the latest Demographic Health Survey 2015, adolescent pregnancies are on the rise, increasing to 7.3 per cent from 6.3 per cent in 2010.
While several initiatives having been launched to raise awareness and prevent teenage pregnancies including the creation of the sex offender’s registry, the pandemic has sparked the risks to gender-based violence as women and girls are spending more time at home.
Evidence shows that girls from vulnerable homes feel and are safe in a school environment.
The longer it takes to reopen schools, the more vulnerable young girls will remain to abuse.
Despite the best efforts by government agencies to raise awareness and encouraging parents to report cases of defilement and rape, most cases are still not reported. Authorities only get to find out when the young girl gets pregnant and it is too late.
This calls for more measures to prevent and protect these children. Local administration must be proactive in engaging their communities to take an upper hand in ensuring the safety of young girls.
Many young girls remain vulnerable and exposed to their abusers because they spend more time doing housework including walking long distances to fetch water.
Others live with extended families in houses that are too congested, which denies them any privacy. Under such circumstances, the safety of the girl child can never be guaranteed.
The pandemic has made life difficult for everybody. Everybody is affected. But the situation is worse for many young girls from vulnerable homes. They need special attention and care beyond government agencies running awareness campaigns.
For instance, the government could provide temporary shelter for any young girl who does not feel safe at home with their family.
In the absence of practical solutions that address the immediate threats that these young girls face, all the other ongoing efforts will not yield any tangible results.
For instance, it is not enough to encourage people to report perpetrators when victims are faced with limited choices because getting pregnant not only means dropping out of school but also increases their risk of health complications.
Currently, most victims cannot afford the cost of emergency pills that minimize the risk of getting pregnant.
Protecting the girls has to involve making several options available for them to protect themselves including access to contraceptives.