The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted life for all groups in society. It has affected the lives of girls and young women, indirectly.
A new analysis released by UNICEF on March 8 clearly stated that ten million additional child marriages may occur before the end of the decade, threatening years of progress in reducing the practice.
“Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, 100 million girls were at risk of child marriage in the next decade, despite significant reductions in several countries in recent years. In the last ten years, the proportion of young women globally who were married as children had decreased by 15 per cent, from nearly 1 in 4 to 1 in 5, the equivalent of some 25 million marriages averted, again that is now under threat,” it added.
Due to the uncertain employment opportunities poverty has increased. Marriage expenses can be minimised amid pandemic as the restrictions placed during the pandemic on the number of guests that may be invited to wedding functions makes child marriage all the more attractive as a cost-saving affair.
Shuttered schools, isolation from friends and support networks, inaccessible online classes resulting in greater risk of permanent discontinuation of their education. Apart from this, parental death from Covid-19 may accelerate premature marriage among girls whose extended families may themselves be struggling or unwilling to care for the girl.
So it is our duty to ensure that girls are able to continue their education during school closures and return to school when schools reopen. If online classes are not accessible, efforts must be made to provide notes and other study materials. Several states, including Bihar and West Bengal, had established such programmes which must be maintained and expanded to all the other states.
Social protection and poverty alleviation measures will reduce such marriages to some extent and creating awareness among the people about the adverse effects of child marriages, benefits of delayed marriage for girls, risks involved in violating the Child Marriage Act, etc. Strict implementation of effective laws and policies, and ensuring access to health and social services also will significantly reduce a girl’s risk of having her childhood stolen through child marriage.
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