Picture: 123RF/NITO 500
Picture: 123RF/NITO 500

London — Countries could save billions of dollars a year by tackling the “disgusting pandemic” of domestic violence, the Commonwealth secretary-general has said as economists estimate the scourge costs the kingdom of Lesotho 5.5% of GDP.

Patricia Scotland said domestic violence burdens health, police and judicial services, leads to absenteeism at work and school, and permanently damages children who witness it, affecting future generations.

About one in three women in Lesotho has suffered physical or sexual violence — often by a partner, similar to the global prevalence rate, according to a Commonwealth study published on Friday.

Analysts calculate that this costs the country more than 1.9-billion Lesotho loti ($113m) a year — equivalent to $50 per citizen.

Scotland said the “groundbreaking” study was part of a wider Commonwealth initiative to encourage all countries to put a price tag on violence against women and girls. Nations that argue they do not have the money to tackle the issue should look at how much it is already costing them, she said.

Lesotho’s gender minister, Mahali Phamotse, said domestic violence is affecting development in the mountain kingdom, which lies within SA, and the study will  shape efforts to address it.

Recommendations include training health staff, teachers and the private sector, improving data collection, and enacting a long-awaited domestic violence bill.

Scotland has made tackling domestic violence a key plank of her leadership of the Commonwealth, an alliance of 54 countries that are home to more than 1-billion women and girls.

The Lesotho study revealed not only the direct costs of domestic violence, but also the broader economic impact. It said victims’ annual income losses — which exceeded $20m — lead to reduced spending power that have knock-on effects on the wider economy, while missed school affects girls’ future earning potential.

Scotland hoped the greater global focus on domestic abuse, which has soared during lockdowns to curb the spread of coronavirus, would spur more governments to take action.

“The consequences are not just for this generation but for the generations to come,” she said. “All the data shows us that if we do not have peace in our homes we haven’t got a hope of having real peace in our world.”

Scotland said domestic violence cuts across all sections of society and urged everyone from bosses to religious leaders not to turn a blind eye. “If it is one in three women this is happening to, how many women do you and I know? Do not say ‘this is not my business’. It is absolutely everybody’s business.” 

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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