Emerging data, media reports, and anecdotal evidence suggest that domestic violence (DV) has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, more detailed data are needed on the magnitude, forms, and causes of DV during COVID-19 in different contexts worldwide. We sought to contribute such evidence from the perspective of community health workers (CHWs) in low-middle income countries in three different regions of the world.
We conducted phone surveys with female and male CHWs from September-December 2020 in Kenya (n=1,385), Bangladesh (n=370), and Haiti (n=261). Descriptive and selected bivariate analyses were performed.
In total, 56%, 32% and 12% perceived increased DV in their communities during COVID-19 in Kenya, Bangladesh and Haiti, respectively. This included violence against both intimate partners and children. Key reasons reported for DV increases were increased stress/tension due to loss of employment/income ( > 80%) and children being home/misbehaving ( > 50%). In Kenya CHWs also cited partners spending more time together (59%), increased alcohol/substance use (38%), and conflict over childcare/housework responsibilities (33%). In bivariate analyses, in Kenya and Bangladesh, reporting a greater number of reasons for increased DV was associated with reporting co-occurring violence against both intimate partners and children (vs. just partners; P < 0.001).
Over half of CHWs in Kenya and one-third in Bangladesh perceived increased DV during COVID-19, largely due to increased stress/tension related to economic hardship and childcare. Fewer perceived increased DV in Haiti, where lockdowns have been less severe. Preventing and responding to DV must be central to COVID-19 response and recovery plans, and should include meeting families’ economic and childcare/schooling needs.