The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted life for all groups in society. pandemic has affected the young indirectly and it is these indirect consequences that pose a severe threat to the future of the generation, especially for the most vulnerable among them. The consequences are evident in most spheres of their lives, and are even more severe for girls and young women than
Evidence also comes from the data of Childline, a nodal government agency for children in distress that receives and addresses distress calls, including those related to child marriage. While these data represent just the tip of the iceberg, they clearly suggest a disturbing trend since the lockdown was imposed. During May–July 2020, for example, 5,584 distress calls were to address child marriage, representing a 33% increase in reports of child marriage to ChildLine between Jan-June 2019 and Jan-June 2020 (Times of India 2021; Bahl, Bassi and Arora 2021).
Evidence has reiterated the obvious: a crisis-exacerbated increase in household poverty together with uncertain employment opportunities is a key driver of child marriage.
Smaller dowries are demanded for younger girls, and dowry of any amount may be welcome for boys. Marriage expenses can be minimised by marrying off all the daughters of the family together, in a single ceremony, irrespective of their age (Jejeebhoy 2019). 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 measure (Nandy 2021).
Those whose schools provide on-line classes may not have the devices, the network access or the technological skills to access schooling, resulting in their greater risk of permanent school discontinuation. The positive association between school discontinuation/completion and marriage is well known, and many girls whose education is prematurely suspended will be forced to marry at an early age.
While data are not available, parental death from Covid-19 may itself accelerate school discontinuation and premature marriage among girls whose extended families may themselves be struggling or unwilling to care for the girl. In the second wave, anecdotal reports do suggest that girls orphaned are being married off early.
we have a 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 feasible, efforts must be made to distribute worksheets and written materials and provide individualised meetings by phone or in-person to resolve problems and help those lagging. Evidence has suggested that cash or in-kind transfers conditional on school attendance are a promising intervention for keeping girls in school, and thereby delaying child marriage. Several states, including Bihar and West Bengal, had established such programmes prior to the onset of the pandemic. These programmes must be maintained, adapted for the lockdown and post-pandemic circumstances, and expanded to other states. Supplementary coaching of adolescents found lagging is also a promising intervention.
Second, the tendency to turn to child marriage as a lever to cope with pandemic-related increases in household poverty must be reversed. Social protection and poverty alleviation measures have the potential to temper such reactions. At the same time, child marriage remains a norm in many settings, and much more investment is needed in sensitising parents — fathers in particular — and communities to reassess patriarchal norms, recognise the benefits of delayed marriage for girls’ lives, and better understand the risks they face in violating the Child Marriage Act. (It is not only parents, but others involved in the performance of the wedding — including the priest, the caterer, and even guests — who may be charged for abetting the wedding of a minor.