The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has disclosed that 10 million additional child marriages may occur before the end of the decade globally, threatening years of progress in reducing the practice particularly in countries considered as prevalent nations, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, and Nigeria
UNICEF identified that outbreak of coronavirus pandemic which resulted in the closure of schools, economic stress, service disruptions, pregnancy, and parental deaths due to COVID-19 were already putting the most vulnerable girls at increased risk of child marriage.
The international organisation’s Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, in a statement made available to The Guild to celebrate 2021 International Women’s Day on Monday, stated that the celebration was an avenue to remind the world of what the girls would lose if urgent action was not taken.
While arguing that the action could affect their education, health, and their future aspiration, Fore disclosed that before the pandemic, 100 million girls were at risk of child marriage in the next decade, despite significant reductions in several countries in recent years.
According to her, in the last ten years, the proportion of young women globally married as children had decreased by 15 percent, from nearly 1 in 4 to 1 in 5, the equivalent of some 25 million marriages averted, again that is now under threat.
“COVID-19 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.
“COVID-19 is profoundly affecting the lives of girls. Pandemic-related travel restrictions and physical distancing make it difficult for girls to access the health care, social services, and community support that protect them from child marriage, unwanted pregnancy, and gender-based violence.
“As schools remain closed, girls are more likely to drop out of education and not return. Job losses and increased economic insecurity may also force families to marry their daughters to ease financial burdens.
“One year into the pandemic, immediate action is needed to mitigate the toll on girls and their families. By reopening schools, implementing effective laws and policies, ensuring access to health and social services – including sexual and reproductive health services – and providing comprehensive social protection measures for families, we can significantly reduce a girl’s risk of having her childhood stolen through child marriage”.
She noted that globally, 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.
To off-set the impacts of COVID-19 and end the practice before 2030, the executive director stated that the target set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) must be intensified to achieve significant success.
“Girls who marry in childhood face immediate and lifelong consequences. They are more likely to experience domestic violence and less likely to remain in school. Child marriage increases the risk of early and unplanned pregnancy, in turn increasing the risk of maternal complications and mortality.
“The practice can also isolate girls from family and friends and exclude them from participating in their communities, taking a heavy toll on their mental health and well-being”