As we approach one year since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, its hidden repercussions past physical sickness are slowly, yet surely unraveling. Between increased rates of clinical depression and anxiety, another dire problem has resurfaced the waters: child marriage.
Organizations such as UNICEF and Save the Children have been working tirelessly for several decades in attempts to break patriarchal societies, encourage women to seek an education, and banish child marriage. According to BBC, Save the Children has successfully prevented 78.6 million child marriages over the last 25 years. However, COVID-19 has single-handedly managed to halt this progress, heavily endangering girls in African and South Asian countries. The loss of leaders, the elderly, and more have left quintessential jobs vacant in struggling communities. The next best bet to save them? Children.
As a result to cope with the loss, children are taken out of school, under the guise of a “temporary leave”, and forced to care for babies, run the village, and ensure that their communities are running efficiently. Bill Chambers, CEO of Girls Not Brides claims, “The pandemic means more families are being pushed into poverty, forcing many girls to work to support their families and to drop out of school- with far less of a chance than boys of ever returning.”
Some may ask, “why the increase now?”. Well, according to WorldBank, “COVID-19 related school closures have interrupted the education of approximately 1.6 billion children worldwide.” In fact, many don’t realize that there are many efforts underway to help place thousands of girls back in school after the damage that the 2013 Ebola outbreak caused. In addition, the World Bank warns that, “one million more girls risk becoming pregnant due to the lockdown measures and disrupted access to reproductive health centers… To avoid the stigma associated with out of wedlock pregnancies, families may be more inclined to marry their daughters.” In these communities, girls are often perceived as a financial burden rather than potential breadwinners. COVID-19 has managed to cause a spiked increase of approximately four percent in child marriages in solely South Asia. Save The Children urges,“an estimated 500,000 more girls risk being forced into child marriage and as many as one million more are expected to become pregnant in 2020 due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic”. This comes along with the original estimates as well, which gauged around 12 million girls being forced into a marriage in 2020 alone.
In terms of reducing these startling statistics, campaigns have sprung up in South Asian and African countries in an effort to increase awareness. However, this is still just the tip of the iceberg. Save The Children warns that over 500,00 girls are in danger of gender-based violence in 2020. While the increase in child marriage can be blamed on COVID-19, the cure to this pandemic will simply not be enough to save these girls. In order to mitigate the harmful impacts of the pandemic, consolidated group efforts must be at the forefront. Governments and heavily funded organizations must come together in the form of advanced measures, and partner alongside women, businesses, and the law to truly eradicate child marriage.
The time has been here for centuries. The time for us to come together to protect a generation of girls from missing out on life-changing opportunities that they have a right to just as much as boys, has been here. It is here. It is our job to find means to empower them and encourage them to design the futures of their dreams.