Five countries, including India, account for about half of the child marriages in the world, according to a new UNICEF analysis. Apart from India, the other countries that add to child brides are Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Brazil.
The analysis ‘COVID-19: A threat to progress against child marriage’, pointed out that ten million additional child marriages may occur before the end of the decade as a result of Covid 19 pandemic. It said that this threatened years of progress in reducing the practice.
The analysis noted the proportion of child marriages decreased by 15 per cent, from nearly one in four to one in five. This means that about 25 million girl child marriages were averted in the last ten years. “This remarkable accomplishment is now under threat. Over the next decade, up to 10 million more girls will be at risk of child marriage because of COVID-19, “said the UNICEF analysis released on International Women’s Day.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore noted that Covid -19 pandemic 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,” she said.
Fore pointed out that the International Women’s Day was a moment to “remind ourselves of what these girls have to lose if we do not act urgently – their education, their health, and their futures.”
The UNICEF said that girls marred at a young age face serious lifelong consequences. They are more likely to experience domestic violence and less likely to remain in school. It increases the risk of early and unplanned pregnancy. It could also isolate girls from family and friends, taking a heavy toll on their mental health and well-being.
COVID-19 IMPACT IN FIVE WAYS
- Interrupted education; School closures increase marriage risk by 25 per cent per year. It results in a loss of 0.6 learning adjusted years of schooling per child. About two per cent of girls will never return to school and will continue to face a higher marriage risk throughout childhood
- Pregnancy: With school closure and dropout, there is an increased risk of marriage due to pregnancy
- Death of a parent: Though not to have any direct impact on the risk of child marriage, it still has some effect.
- Economic shocks: In countries where bride price is common, loss of household income increases the probability of marriage by three per cent.
- Disruptions to programmes and services; Delayed programmes to prevent child marriage are estimated to result in a one year loss of gains from such programmes
- Enact comprehensive social protection measures
Social protection programmes and poverty alleviation strategies are central to preventing child marriage and improving the economic and social conditions that make girls more vulnerable. Conditional cash transfers can intervene in improving girls’ retention or progress in school and delay child marriage. Cash or in-kind transfers with delayed marriage as a condition have as much as a 50 per cent success rate in forestalling child marriage.
- Safeguard every child’s access to education: identify actions to ensure the continuity of learning while schools are closed and a safe return when schools reopen, especially for children in the poorest countries and from deprived communities. UNESCO estimates that nearly 24 million children and adolescents, including 11 million girls and young women, may drop out of school due to the pandemic’s economic impact.29 Not attending school or dropping out is associated with increased risks of teenage pregnancy and child marriage
- Guarantee health and social services for girls are funded and available; As COVID-19 infections overwhelm health systems and countries divert resources from routine health services to fight the pandemic. Adolescent girls may face reduced access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. Consider the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescent girls during the COVID-19 response. Remove access barriers to sexual and reproductive health services. Expand health insurance support.