In recent months, Peru has faced a growing missing person’s crisis. Since lockdown was imposed in mid-March, female disappearances have risen considerably. According to Peru’s women’s ministry, figures in July indicated that about 1200 women had gone missing, which amounts to eight women reported as missing per day. By the end of August, this number had risen to 1423 women. More broadly, women and girls have also faced higher levels of gender-based violence and crimes such as rape and sexual assault than what is considered to be normal. The disappearances are indicative of broader issues within the Peruvian community, such as gender-based violence. Gender-based violence has become inflamed due to lockdown measures, and a lack of effective procedures regarding missing persons. Current methods for cataloguing and maintaining records of disappearances are critically poor.
Isabel Ortiz, a women’s rights commissioner in the National Ombudsman’s office, an independent body that monitors Peru’s human rights, discussed the issue at length with Reuters. “We don’t have detailed information about how many [women] have been found.” In fixing this problem, Ortiz suggested the creation of “a proper register that would allow us to link the disappearances of women to other crimes like human trafficking and sexual violence.” As it stands currently, there is no consistent method for cataloguing whether women have been found alive or dead, and whether they are found in relation to human trafficking.
The disappearances are an indication that Peru has failed its female citizens. Tackling gender-based violence should be a priority in the country, particularly during a global pandemic. At-risk groups, including women, are less mobile and more vulnerable as a result of lockdown. While the Peruvian government has been working to reduce gender-based violence in recent years, steps must be taken to ensure that disappearances will be taken seriously. The creation of a national database is imperative. Since 2003, there has been a legal requirement for such a database to exist, and yet the government has failed to deliver.
The disappearances have also been accompanied by other gender-based crimes, such as domestic and sexual violence. During the period of lockdown, from mid-May to July, Peru’s Ministry for Women and Vulnerable Populations (MIMP) registered a shocking 104,000 calls. Further, MIMP’s emergency respondents attended nearly 1000 victims of rape. Such numbers demonstrate a critical failing of women. However, these trends have been mirrored across the globe as countries have been placed under lockdown. According to the UN Policy Brief, COVID-19 and Violence Against Women and Girls, gender-based violence has greatly increased as a result of the reduced mobility of women, and the confined and stressful nature of lockdown.
Peru’s missing women crisis is likely a result of the high stress, and confined nature of lockdown coupled with an extensive and long history of normalized gender-based violence in the country. The government needs to act. The creation of a thorough database detailing whether women have been found, and in relation to specific crimes is a critical first step. Further steps should include seriously and genuinely tackling gender-based violence, and creating safe spaces for women and girls. The lockdown has exacerbated gender-based violence, but the social climate that allows for violence against women must be addressed if Peruvian women and girls are to live in security.
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