Mrs Jhowry, Chairperson, Mauritius Family Planning and Welfare Association;
Mr. Robert Banamwana, Strategic Planning Advisor, Office of the UN Resident Coordinator
Mrs Bidiawtee Charan, Executive Director, Mauritius Family Planning and Welfare Association;
Ladies and gentlemen;
I am very pleased to be here today and to be associated with the Mauritius Family Planning and Welfare Association to commemorate World Population Day – (celebrated 5 days ago, on 11 July 2020).
Whenever there are human rights issues to be highlighted the EU will be present because we believe that democracy and HR are essential to build a safe and sustainable planet. We learned it the hard way, after two WW which destroyed our continent; it lead us to enshrine HR in the core of our funding treaties and to support multilateralism with the creation and the continuous support to the UN system. But in today world, challenges and threats are growing and we need to be vigilant and to reinforce whenever possible our partnership.
And over recent months an unprecedented new threat has emerge: the Covid-19.
Therefore this year’s theme chosen by the United Nations for World Population Day 2020 is precisely “Putting the brakes on COVID-19: how to safeguard the health and rights of women and girls now”.
Around the world, the pandemic is having a devastating impact on health systems, economies and the lives, livelihood and wellbeing of all.
The pandemic is a danger to all of us, but there are many groups of people who are in an especially vulnerable position or are highly exposed.
Women be it doctors, midwives, nurses, community health workers but also cashier or cleaning ladies constitute the majority of the front-liner who are exposed and face a direct risk of illness from COVID-19.
Outside the health sector and the front liners, other women and girls face serious risks too. Those requiring sexual and reproductive health services may face anxiety about exposure to the virus while seeking care – or they may forgo care entirely. Others have lost access to care altogether due to movement restrictions.
But there is yet another source of risk: worryingly, extended lockdown has also increased the exposure of women to gender-based violence, in particular domestic violence and sexual violence. Like the rest f the world, Mauritius has not been spared with reportedly 520 cases of domestic violence and 568 cases of violence on children recorded during the complete lockdown.
This clearly shows once again that women and girls have been disproportionately affected, with sexual and reproductive health services being curtailed and gender-based violence on the rise.
In this context, I commend the Mauritius Family Planning and Welfare Association for gathering us today. And I am convinced that the project that we are supporting is today more relevant than ever. It carries two clear goals – gender equality and reproductive health; it is giving access of more than136,000 persons, namely children, adolescents, youths, women, men and the elderly to integrated and specialized Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services. It is a strong commitment of the EU over the long term since it spans over 4 years (i.e. from December 2018 to December 2022) with a dedicated amount of nearly 24 million rupees - Addressing demographic challenges through safe motherhood and family planning for sustainable development”
Today’s meeting is also special since we have with us the Officers of the Brigade pour la protection des mineurs.
Based on lessons learnt from the pandemic, today’s workshop will offer you a unique platform to identify all the challenges that have impede on women and girls’ rights during the COVID-19. As you reflect on these challenges, it is equally important that you exchange views and come up with conclusions and recommendations on how to reinforce human rights to make the society more resilient not only to this pandemic, but also to future shocks.
Ladies and gentlemen,
There is unfortunately another sad lesson that we can draw from the pandemic and that should inspire our response.
When we talk of confinement, for the vast majority of children, it means protection within a safe environment. But for too many girls and boys, confinement has unfortunately resulted in an increased vulnerability to violence, including sexual abuse and exploitation.
The terrible fact is that most of the children already know their abusers, even live with them. The recent example of Cité Anoshka is quite revealing.
Lately, Mauritius has seen an increase in cases of child sexual abuse.
And this is unfortunately the trend worldwide as well.
For instance, in Europe, there has been a spike in the online sexual abuse of children during the COVID-19 pandemic. A rise in paedophile activities seeking access to illegal websites, and the exchange of sexual material involving children, has been reported by the national law enforcement authorities of 27 EU Member States.
WHO estimates that 1 in 3 children experience some form of interpersonal violence by parents, caregivers, peers or other family members.
It is therefore crucial to assess the impact of the COVID-19 crisis management measures and adapt responses to child protection. I am sure that the discussion on sexual exploitation of children which is planned in today’s agenda will generate a series of recommendations for better addressing this new challenge.
The problem must be addressed on two fronts – i) prevention and ii) protection and prosecution.
The importance of prevention cannot be overstated. We must tackle the root cause of sexual crimes against children.
That is why I see the empowerment of the officers of “Brigade pour la Protection des Mineurs”, who are the real watchdog against child abuse, as crucial in responding to the pandemic of sexual violence against children.
I am sure with the support of trainers from Ministry of Gender Equality and Ministry of Health, you will be better equipped to improve your service delivery and contribute to halting this scourge.
But we also need protection and prosecution. That is where I am convinced that more than ever the Children’s Bill has its relevance.
After the sad episode of Cité Anoshka, the Minister of Gender Equality has announced that the Children’s Bill will be coming to Parliament within one-month time. The European Union fully supports this announcement and has in the past provided technical assistance to the Ministry of Gender Equality for drafting this bill. We are therefore looking forward to its adoption at the soonest possible.
But again, as I always say, having the law is one thing. Implementing it is another thing. We will need to see to it that the legal provisions in the Children’s Bill are fully adhered to for the safeguard of our children.
COVID-19 affects women and men differently. The pandemic makes existing inequalities for women and girls’ worse and risk impeding the realization of human rights for women and girls.
The post-covid response should ensure full access to sexual and reproductive health care information, services and goods for all women without discrimination, and with specific attention for women at risk or victims of gender-based violence and other vulnerable groups of women.
Children have rights too. It is our obligation to protect them. And to defend their rights. We must therefore work together to protect all of our children.
I am confident that today’s workshop is a milestone and will generate a series of measures regarding access to services during the Covid-19 pandemic and future response-preparedness to protect women, girls and children from future shocks.
I wish you fruitful deliberation.
I thank you for your attention.