THE pandemic is threatening to reverse progress towards ending child marriages, the Christian charity World Vision says.
Covid-19 has caused economic devastation around the world, forcing families hit by falling income and resources to choose the short-term “value” of their daughter’s marriage as a way out of their financial burden, says the charity’s report on the crisis, Breaking the Chain, published last week. It says that girls from poor families are three times more likely to marry before they are 18 than are those from wealthier homes.
It calculates that, every minute, 22 girls under 18 — some as young as seven — are married off: a total of 12 million a year. Most marry much older men.
Campaigns to reduce the figures, especially in India, which has the highest, have cut the total by four per cent over the past decade, but now UN agencies and other NGOs are predicting a surge: an additional ten million girls may be at risk over the next decade. ”Unfortunately, we are already seeing this surge,” the report says. “From March to December 2020, reports on child marriage in communities where we work more than doubled compared to the same period in 2019.
“Poverty, fragility, unjust legal systems, and harmful social norms and traditions are among the many factors that support its ongoing practice. Even in countries with laws intended to protect children from marrying before their 18th birthday, social and cultural norms supporting child marriage still exist and undermine any national laws.
“The impacts of Covid-19 are severely hindering progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and targets related to eliminating child marriage and all forms of violence against children by 2030.”
World Vision suggests a series of national-level measures. They include banning marriage for children under 18; ensuring that every girl has access to safe education; expanding awareness-raising, and supporting faith and community leaders in changing harmful traditions and practices.
They also call on countries to recognise the heightened risk of child marriage in fragile contexts, including public-health emergencies such as the pandemic.
“World Vision believes that a world without all forms of violence against children — including the elimination of child marriage — is possible,” the report says. “Investment in ending child marriage has a ripple effect, empowering girls and women, as well as building stronger communities, societies and economies.
“We have made significant and undeniable progress towards ending child marriage over the past two decades, but many gaps remain in regions of the world with high rates of gender inequality and in fragile and humanitarian contexts. The Covid-19 outbreak is proving to be one of the biggest challenges across all contexts.
“Whilst the international community can play a catalytic and supporting role, it is critical to centre the voices of children and youth and to mobilise donor and government support for social change.”