Thomson Reuters Foundation /Bogota
Domestic violence against women may have declined over the past 20 years in seven countries in the Americas, though the problem remains rife and undermines development in the region, the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) said.
Domestic violence, including physical and sexual abuse against women, carried out by former or current boyfriends or husbands, is the most common form of violence against women in the Americas, affecting on average one in three women at some point in their lives, according to PAHO.
The health agency found that rates of domestic violence fell significantly in Canada and Nicaragua, and to a lesser extent in Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Peru and Mexico.
The preliminary results are based on reviews of national surveys on gender-based violence from 24 countries, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean, since 1998.
Rates of domestic violence in Nicaragua decreased by almost half from 1998-2012, said PAHO, the regional arm of the World Health Organisation.
“Reported prevalence rates declined significantly in several countries. However some did not, some changes were small and others rose over time,” said Alessandra Guedes, PAHO’s regional adviser on family violence.
The Dominican Republic and Bolivia were among those experiencing rises. In Bolivia more than half of women have suffered physical or sexual violence by their partners at some point in their lives.
About one in seven women in Brazil, Panama and Uruguay aged 15-49 said they had suffered domestic violence, according to PAHO.
“Partner violence continues to remain a widespread public health, human rights and development problem in the Americas,” said Guedes, who presented the findings at a PAHO event in Washington.
With most violence against women in Latin America and the Caribbean taking place in the home, children often witness the abuse, a problem that is gaining greater attention, PAHO said.
“We know that children exposed to violence are more likely to be perpetrators of violence as adults, and or are more likely to suffer violence themselves,” said Isabella Danel, PAHO’s deputy director.
“This cycle of violence must be stopped,” she said.
Research shows that children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to drop out of school and suffer from bed wetting and poor behaviour. Children of abused women experience anxiety and behaviour problems that impact their health and development,” Danel said.
“Families may suffer from loss of income, and entire communities suffer when survivors’ productivity is affected and women are not able to participate fully in public life.”
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