By Anna Szczełkun
Girls married at a young age are significantly more prone to experience abuse and far less likely to stay at school. It also increases the risk of early pregnancies, which poses a grave health risk for mothers in developing countries. According to the UN, 12 million girls under 18 get married every year. Worldwide the number of marriages that were started before the wife turned 18 is now estimated at 650 million, many of them occurring in countries like Bangladesh, India, Brasil, Ethiopia, or Nigeria. In the last decade, the number of underage girls who were married fell by 15%. But the current coronavirus crisis might have caused a huge increase in these numbers, also long-term.
For years, education was one of the best ways for a girl to avoid this fate. However, with the schools closed and the enormous and still growing economic crisis, the odds for these young girls in developing countries are worse than they have been for years. Even if school closing due to the pandemic has put an incomparable burden on the children in poorer countries, a bigger issue turned out to be the costs of schooling in general. Increasing unemployment drove many families into poverty and many children were forced to drop out of schools not being able to afford it. Dropping out of school for a child not only makes them more likely to be married at a younger age, but it also increases their risks of falling into structural poverty. Moreover, not only the lack of further educational prospects but also the poverty itself increases the occurrence of underage marriages. Marrying their children off is often one of the many ways to decrease the economic stress on the family or to grant their daughter better economical conditions in her new family.
The problem is worsened even more by the relocation of funds from family planning to fighting the pandemic in many countries such as Indonesia. The covid restrictions made it also harder for women to get medical help or access social services that would normally protect them from unwanted pregnancies or domestic violence.
In 2020, Indonesia has recorded almost 65 thousand child marriages, which is four times more than in the previous year. Even 10 more million child marriages can happen in the next 10 years due to the current coronavirus pandemic. Keeping girls in schools and helping to decrease poverty are the ways to revert this increase, however, in the world struggling with the pandemic, it is not going to be easy.
CNA Insider (Director). (2021, April 6). Child Marriage And Loneliness: COVID-19’s Unseen Impact On Children | CNA Correspondent[Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jpDw6e4Cuk
South China Morning Post (Director). (2020, September 8). Child marriages on rise in Indonesia as Covid-19 deepens desperation for poverty-stricken families[Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcVXmheWTjA
Ontiveros, E. (2021, March 08). Covid child brides: ‘My family told me to marry at 14’. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-56292247
UNICEF. (2021, April 08). 10 million additional girls at risk of child marriage due to COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/10-million-additional-girls-risk-child-marriage-due-covid-19
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