A report released by UNICEF this week has found 10 million more girls are at risk of child marriage over the next decade as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the BBC reports, while the proportion of girls married before legal adulthood has fallen by 15% since 2011, the impact of COVID-19 threatens to reverse this trend.
UNICEF estimates suggest that “school closures around the globe, interrupted support services for families and children, and the economic downturn” caused by the pandemic have led to a 10% increase on the 100 million children already at risk of becoming victims of child marriage over the next 10 years.
Nankali Maksud, senior advisor for Prevention of Harmful Practices at UNICEF, told the BBC:
These figures tell us that the world is becoming a tougher place for girls…We were making progress globally in reducing child marriages. Still not enough to achieve our goal of eliminating it, but we were going in the right direction…But COVID has put us even more off-track. The lives of teenage girls globally have gotten worse.
While the estimates released by UNICEF this week paint a worrying picture for children, experts believe these predictions can be reversed with timely social interventions.
For example, cash transfers, where families have received financial compensation for not marrying off their daughters have already proven to be effective remedies against child marriage in India.
However, these interventions must come in tandem with a tailored post-pandemic response to child marriage, as Ms Maksud explained:
“First of all, get girls back to school in the safest possible way…We also need to address the economic impact of COVID in poor households, so the financial burden is not palliated by selling or marrying off girls.”
Ms. Maksud also highlighted the effect that teenage pregnancy has had on child marriage, and emphasised the importance of responses addressing this issue through increased access to sexual and reproductive health education:
“It is vital that sexual and reproductive health services resume so girls can access them, and have the information and assistance they need to be able to make the right choices.”
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