LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Four million girls are at risk of child marriage over the next two years because of the new coronavirus pandemic, a global charity said Friday, as campaigners warned that the crisis could undo decades of work to bring the practice to life. to end .
Deepening poverty as a result of the loss of livelihood is likely to prompt many families to marry off their daughters early, World Vision said.
“When there is a crisis, such as a conflict, the disasters or pandemic of child marriage goes up,” Erica Hall, an expert in child marriage, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“If we don’t start thinking about how to prevent this now, it’s too late. We can’t wait for the health crisis to be over first.”
Campaigners said the risks were compounded by the fact that schools were closed and organizations engaged in combating child marriage found it more difficult to operate during lockdowns.
The pandemic also makes it more difficult for girls to access reproductive health services, which could lead to an increase in teenage pregnancies and increased pressure to get married.
Globally, an estimated 12 million girls marry each year before the age of 18 – nearly one girl every three seconds.
A UN report last month predicted that the pandemic could lead to an additional 13 million child marriages over the next ten years.
Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of 1,400 organizations committed to ending child marriage, said members were deeply concerned.
“People on the ground say this looks bad. We are likely to see large numbers of child marriages, ”said Faith Mwangi-Powell, CEO of Girls Not Brides.
“I’ve heard this from India, Africa, Latin America. Some say this can undo decades of work we’ve done to reduce child marriage. “
She said school closings were a special concern.
“Schools protect girls. When schools close, the risks (of marriage) become much greater, “said Mwangi-Powell.
“Even after COVID, many girls are unlikely to go to school anymore, which is very scary. We have to make sure they do.”
World Vision’s Hall said there was already anecdotal evidence of an increase in child marriages in South Sudan, Afghanistan and India, where the charity recently partnered with the police to end seven marriages after phone calls to help lines.
Hall said there were fears that some people would use lockdowns to conceal child marriages, but she expected the peak to come later as families struggle with the economic consequences.
Parents can marry off girls to reduce the number of children they have to support or to receive dowry.
“It really is a survival mechanism. Parents don’t do it on purpose – they just don’t see an alternative, ”Hall said.