UN officials have stated that the Covid-19 pandemic is heightening the dangers of gender-based violence and human trafficking for women and girls.

“In every part of the world, we are seeing that Covid has worsened the plight of at-risk women and girls, while also hindering criminal justice responses and reducing support to victims,” Ghada Waly, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said on Monday during a virtual event on global commitment for women and girls amid the pandemic.

According to the UNODC, women and girls were already being exposed to different forms of violence before the pandemic, and they make up more than 60 per cent of all victims of human trafficking, Xinhua news agency reported.

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However, lockdowns and other measures implemented in the wake of the global health crisis have led to a “shadow pandemic” of rising gender-based violence, it added.

Women’s economic inequality also increases their vulnerability to trafficking and sexual violence, according to UN Women, which promotes gender equality.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said that most female survivors, or nearly 80 per cent, are trafficked for sexual exploitation.

“There are socioeconomic consequences when these crimes happen, but in times of pandemic, the socioeconomic impact is even deeper,” she said.

“Forty-seven million more women and girls will be pushed to extreme poverty because of Covid-19, but business is booming for traffickers,” she said.

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In April, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for a worldwide domestic violence “ceasefire”, urging governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the crisis.

So far, nearly 150 countries have answered the secretary-general’s call, pledging to make prevention and redress of gender-based violence a key part of their pandemic response.

UNODC, UN Women and other partners are also backing the appeal.