The United Nations Children’s Fund has said over the next decade, up to 10 million more girls will be at risk of becoming child brides as a result of the pandemic.
UNICEF’s projection was tied to the increases through various pathways, including economic shocks, school closures and interruptions in services.
Worldwide, an estimated 650 million girls and women alive today were married in childhood, with about half of those occurring in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, India and Nigeria.
According to UNICEF: “The COVID-19 pandemic is profoundly affecting the everyday lives of girls: their physical and mental health, their education, and the economic circumstances of their families and communities. Changes like these increase the likelihood of child marriage, and over the next decade, up to 10 million more girls will be at risk of becoming child brides as a result of the pandemic.
“The risk of child marriage increases through various pathways, including economic shocks, school closures and interruptions in services. It is well known, for example, that economic insecurity can lead to child marriage as a way to relieve financial pressure on a family.
“The evidence is also clear that education is a protective factor against child marriage. Thus, school closures such as those triggered by COVID-19 may, in effect, push girls towards marriage since school is no longer an option.
“Additionally, the disruption of ‘non-essential’ services including reproductive health services have a direct impact on teenage pregnancy and subsequently on marriage.”
UNICEF noted that crisis of the pandemic had made the actual number of girls married during the period unknown adding that data from pre-COVID could be used to predict child marriage in the near future.
“Though the full impact of the pandemic is still highly uncertain, there are actions we can take now to protect girls that will also yield lasting benefits. They include enacting comprehensive social protection measures, safeguarding every child’s access to education and creating a protective legal and policy framework, addressing social and guaranteeing that health and social services for girls are funded and available.
“Through the Sustainable Development Goals, the world committed to ending child marriage by 2030. This obligation extends to the 10 million girls whose futures are now in jeopardy along with the 100 million girls at risk of becoming child brides before the pandemic began”, UNICEF said.