The pandemic has intensified the factors that drive child marriage, such as closing of schools, economic stress and hardship, service disruptions, parental deaths and teen pregnacy. According to UNICEF, ten million additional child marriages may occur before the end of this decade.
“COVID-19 has made an already difficult situation for millions of girls even worse. Shuttered schools, isolation from friends and support networks, and rising poverty have added fuel to a fire the world was already struggling to put out. But we can and we must extinguish child marriage,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “International Women’s Day is a key moment to remind ourselves of what these girls have to lose if we do not act urgently – their education, their health, and their futures.”
There are immediate and lifelong consequences to girls who marry in childhood. Most of them drop out of school and are likely to experience domestic violence. Additionally, child marriage also increases the risk of early and unexpected pregnancy, which are the leading cause of death in girls aged 15 to 19 in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization. The practice is also capable of isolating girls from family and friends, having a negative effect on their mental health and well-being.
“Covid-19 has definitely taken us backward,” said Nankali Maksud, a senior adviser at UNICEF.
Sometimes, young girls are forced by families into marriage with older men. Child advocates also worry about the fact that because of the pandemic’s impact, a significant number of young women are drifting away from school and marrying early, seeing that as their only option, abandoning their dreams and ambitions for an education and a better life.
An estimated 650 million girls and women alive today were married as a child, half of those occurring in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Malawi. To counteract upon the impacts of COVID-19 and end the practice by 2030, the progress must be carried out immediately and rapidly.
“One year into the pandemic, immediate action is needed to mitigate the toll on girls and their families,” added Fore. “By reopening schools, implementing effective laws and policies, ensuring access to health and social services – including sexual and reproductive health services – and providing comprehensive social protection measures for families, we can significantly reduce a girl’s risk of having her childhood stolen through child marriage.”
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