Domestic abuse cases soar in Lebanon amid coronavirus lockdown

NGO group says it has received nearly twice as many calls on its hotline this year as it did throughout 2019.

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    Lebanon's landmark 2014 law against domestic abuse does not criminalise marital rape [Bilal Hussein/AP]
    Lebanon's landmark 2014 law against domestic abuse does not criminalise marital rape [Bilal Hussein/AP]

    Beirut, Lebanon - "There were issues between my husband and I before these events, before the home quarantine. There were problems and violence and beating and insults," a woman says in a secretly recorded video.

    "Now, after the quarantine, it's increased a lot. A lot. Our [financial] situation is very bad, and we're at our wit's end. If the landlord comes to ask him for money, he takes it out on me."

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    The woman, whose identity is being withheld to protect her, sent the video to Abaad, a Lebanese NGO promoting gender equality.

    Ghida Anani, the group's director, says such cases of domestic abuse in Lebanon have skyrocketed amid a nationwide lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus. The measure has compounded the effects of the country's worst-ever economic and financial crisis.

    Over the last year, thousands in Lebanon lost their jobs or had their salaries slashed, while businesses closed and the currency depreciated by almost 50 percent. Then, the coronavirus health emergency struck.

    Lebanon inmates attempt prison break citing coronavirus fears

    On March 15, the government announced a lockdown, limiting all non-essential economic activity and locking families inside together. An overnight curfew has been in place since March 26.

    As of April 16, there were 663 confirmed coronavirus cases and 21 deaths reported in Lebanon.

    Anani says there is now evidence to show these measures are worsening conditions for victims of domestic abuse.

    Domestic abuse cases double

    Abaad, the NGO group, has received nearly twice as many calls on its help hotline so far in 2020 as it did throughout all of 2019 - 578 as of Thursday, Anani said.

    About one-third were concentrated in March, the first month of the nationwide lockdown.

    "It's a striking figure that shows this is a serious issue that needs fast intervention - its a warning," Anani told Al Jazeera.

    The past two weeks have seen two cases of alleged domestic violence make national news. In early April, two Lebanese women - one 20, the other a minor, were injured after they jumped from their second-story home in Beirut, in an apparent attempt to escape abusive conditions.

    On April 6, a six-year-old Syrian girl died after being severely beaten by her father. He was subsequently arrested by the country's Internal Security Forces.

    Calls to an ISF domestic abuse hotline have also doubled - from 44 in March 2019 to 88 in March of this year.

    Lebanon domestic violence
    Abaad, the NGO group, has received 578 calls, nearly twice as many as all of 2019 [Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera]

    Stigma

    While Lebanon generally fairs better on gender indicators and affords more protections to women than other countries in the region, there are notable holes in the country's domestic violence laws and stigma against reporting gender-based violence remains high.

    Lebanese women are also not allowed to pass citizenship to their children, perhaps the most glaring example of gender-based discrimination in the country.

    The country's landmark 2014 domestic violence law was watered down after pressure from religious authorities. Under the legislation, judges are not allowed to order the imprisonment of men who breach restraining orders.

    It also does not criminalise marital rape, referring to the "marital right of intercourse", a phrase that has been roundly criticised by activists, who say it could be used to legitimise marital rape.

    As pressures on women facing domestic abuse increase during Lebanon's compounding crises, Abaad launched an awareness campaign, asking Lebanese to share the NGO's hotline from their balconies along with messages of solidarity on Thursday.

    The move was an attempt to bring the hotline to women stuck at home, either through their windows or via the nightly news.

    A number of Beirut residents took part. The clang of pots and pans being beaten together reverberated through the streets of the Furn el-Chebbak neighbourhood, on the capital's southern outskirts, as women threw sheets draped with the phone number 8178-8178 over balcony railings.

    "This initiative is a call for solidarity," Anani said. "We're sending out a message of hope and telling women residing behind closed doors that they are not alone."

    "We are also saying 'You should do something. Don't suffer in silence. Call us.'"

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News