COVID-19 pandemic fueled racism, child abuse: EU rights agency

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The coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented and profound effect on human rights, fueling racism and child abuse, the EU’s rights agency said Thursday in its annual report.

“The pandemic and the reactions it triggered exacerbated existing challenges and inequalities in all areas of life, especially affecting vulnerable groups,” a report by the Vienna-based Fundamental Rights Agency said.

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“It also sparked an increase in racist incidents,” the FRA added, calling the pandemic’s effects on rights “profound."

Marginalized groups such as Roma, refugees and migrants were not only at higher risk of contamination, but also lost jobs owing to strict lockdown measures.

In addition, they were the targets of “racist and xenophobic incidents, including verbal insults, harassment, physical aggression and online hate speech”, according to evidence collected by the FRA and other groups.

In 2020, domestic violence and sexual abuse also increased, the report said.

It cited sources in the Czech Republic and Germany as saying that calls to national domestic violence hotlines rose by 50 percent in the former and by 20 percent in the latter between March and June last year.

Child sexual abuse online also increased, FRA said, citing Europol.

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The agency urged countries to tackle the pandemic and its “unprecedented collective challenge” to human rights with “balanced measures that are based on law” and which were “temporary and proportional”.

The report covers the 27 European Union member states, along with North Macedonia and Serbia.

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