PARIS: France reported on Thursday a spike in the number of calls to its child-abuse hotline in the weeks since the nationwide coronavirus lockdown came into effect, underscoring fears that confinement could put more children at risk of domestic violence.
The hotline -- "Allo Enfance en Danger" -- has seen a 20 percent increase in calls since the stay-at-home orders came into effect on March 17, Adrien Taquet, the secretary of state charged with child protection, told AFP.
The number of calls deemed urgent by the hotline's operators and requiring an immediate police response has surged 60 percent over the past four weeks, Taquet said.
He did not specify the numbers of calls but operators dealt with 90 calls each day on average in 2015, according to the most recent data from the website of the national child protection agency (ONPE).
"The increase in these numbers was only to be expected, because we know that confinement is more conducive to violence," Taquet said.
But public awareness campaigns and an initiative to allow children to contact the authorities via SMS or the internet -- which can be done silently, without alerting a potentially violent parent -- "is also probably starting to bear fruit", he said.
On Wednesday, Unicef France and the feminist advocacy group #NousToutes also launched a campaign promoting the 119 hotline.
"Each year more than 50,000 children and adolescents are victims of physical, sexual or psychological violence while locked up with their abusers," they said.
Taquet said the hotline calls were being made by the victims themselves, their friends or "neighbours hearing screams on the other side of the wall".
The government has also warned of an increase of domestic violence toward spouses, with Interior Minister Christophe Castaner reporting that cases had surged by roughly a third across France in the week after the coronavirus lockdown was implemented.