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Nobel laureate warns of increased trafficking

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad says the COVID-19 pandemic has increased trafficking of women and gender-based violence, leaving the health and safety of women on the line.

The 27-year-old activist, who was forced into sexual slavery by Islamic State fighters in Iraq, said curfews, lockdowns and travel restrictions imposed by governments to slow the spread of the virus have had unintended consequences on women worldwide.

Rather than reducing human trafficking and gender-based violence, the pandemic has increased the risk of exploitation and brutality against those most vulnerable, she said.

Numerous countries have seen increases in reports of domestic violence since the pandemic began.

Murad said domestic tensions have intensified in confined living spaces, and stay-at-home orders are increasing human trafficking farther underground, out of sight of law enforcement.

The few resources designated for prevention, rescue and rehabilitation are being stretched thin, she said.

As a result, women’s health and safety are on the line. It is now difficult for many women to access psychological support (and) health care.

A member of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, Murad was among thousands of women and girls who were captured and forced into sexual slavery by Islamic State extremists in 2014.

Her mother and six brothers were killed by Islamic State fighters. She became an activist on behalf of women and girls after escaping and finding refuge in Germany, and shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.

Murad spoke virtually at a U.N. meeting on Monday entitled Locked Down and Locked-In: Standing Against Sexual Violence and Human Trafficking during the COVID-19 Pandemic.