JAKARTA, 5 June 2020 – ASEAN strengthens its commitment to promoting and protecting the rights of women and children in this challenging time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Singapore - Chair - 1Through the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC), ASEAN Member States continue to join forces to address enduring issues and emerging challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. During the ACWC Special Online Meeting on the Protective and Preventive Measures for Women and Children at Risk of Domestic Violence during the COVID-19 Pandemic held on 5 June 2020, the ACWC Representatives gathered to exchange information and updates on national measures, as well as propose recommendations, to protect and prevent domestic violence against women and children in our region, which may increase during crisis situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. In her opening remarks, Madame Laura Hwang Cheng Lin, the ACWC Chair and Singapore’s ACWC Representative for Women Rights, underscored the objective of the meeting to “recommend key action points for the ACWC to fulfill its role as the regional focal point for the promotion and protection of the rights of women and children in responding to and recovering from COVID-19”.

The ACWC Representatives also welcomed the interface session with the United Nations’ Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children (UN SRSG VAC), Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid. Reaffirming the friendship and partnership with ASEAN on the implementation of the ASEAN Regional Plan of Action on the Elimination of Violence against Children (ASEAN RPA on EVAC), the meeting noted the sharing of UN SRSG VAC on global-level assessment and potential mitigation strategies for the attention of governments and policy makers.

Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid, in reference to the ACWC Chair’s Opening Remarks, reiterated that the combination of economic and social stresses brought about by the pandemic, as well as restrictions on movement, have dramatically augmented the number of women and children facing abuse, in almost all countries. She highlighted, “Where there is no or limited social protection systems, children are prey to forms of exploitation and early marriage; and as children and potential abusers spend more time online there is an increasing risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, and cyberbullying.”

The ACWC Representatives subsequently exchanged views and provided guidance on the next steps and potential collaboration with the Office of the UN SRSG VAC, together with other relevant UN agencies, to effectively enhance ASEAN’s collective pandemic preparedness and response, particularly for women and children at risk of exploitation and domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ACWC Chair concluded the meeting by highlighting the importance of addressing the increased incidence of violence against women and children during COVID-19 through accelerated and concerted efforts of governments, civil society organisations, UN agencies and relevant stakeholders. “The promotion and protection of the rights of women and children is a continuous and collective endeavour. We need to continue to engage our stakeholders across the public, private and people sectors”, she urged.

Building upon the Declaration of the Special ASEAN Summit on COVID-19 which was adopted by the ASEAN Leaders on 14 April 2020, the conduct of the ACWC Special Online Meeting was timely and fruitful prior to the convening of the Special Online Meeting of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Social Welfare and Development (AMMSWD) under the theme of “Mitigating Impacts of COVID-19 on Vulnerable Groups in ASEAN” on 10 June 2020.