The pandemic threatens 25 years of progress towards ending the practice as a report from Save the Children warns of a spike in child marriages globally.
Before Covid-19, few countries were set to reach the Sustainable Development Goal of ending child marriage by 2030. For girls today, this goal of gender equality seems even further out of reach, as Covid-19 threatens to reverse 25 years of progress towards ending child marriage and pregnancy.
2.5 million more girls are at risk of being forced into child marriages globally by 2025. The Global Girlhood Report 2020, published by Save the Children, warned that 500,000 more girls were at risk of being forced into child marriage in 2020 alone, bringing the total number of child marriages to an estimated 12.5 million last year. Globally, the pandemic threatens the worst surge in child marriage in 25 years, yet this may only be “the tip of the iceberg”.
Child marriage is a form of gender-based violence, and a driver of gender inequality, as well as a result of such discrimination. “Ending the practice is critical to ending many of the rights abuses that stand in the way of gender equality for girls”, highlighted the report by Save the Children. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated some of the economic and social conditions that drive child, early, and forced marriage: restricted access to education, poverty, and early pregnancies.
How has Covid-19 exacerbated these conditions? The Covid-19 health crisis has heightened economic insecurity globally, resulting in an increasing number of children living in poverty. Due to rates of child marriage being higher in poorer households, while already vulnerable communities experience further economic strain, girls are facing even greater risk of early marriages. This is intensified by current Covid-19-related school closures, given that education provides a safety net for girls, monitoring and community engagement. Furthermore, these response measures to the pandemic have disrupted the education of 1.6 billion children around the world. Evidence from the Ebola outbreak in 2013 indicates that many girls will never return to school as a result of increasing pressure to work, bans on pregnant girls attending school, risk of child marriage and lost contact with education while the Save the Children report estimates that 9.7 million children may never return to school post-Covid. Consequentially, the universal struggle against the Covid-19 health crisis is having an unspoken and devastating implications for child marriages globally.
One million more girls are at risk of becoming pregnant due to lockdown measures and the temporary closure of reproductive health services. “A growing risk of violence and sexual exploitation combined with growing food and economic insecurity – especially in humanitarian emergencies – means many parents feel they have little alternative but to force their girls to marry men who are often much older”, Kevin Watkins, the chief executive of Save the Children UK, said in an interview with The Guardian. It is estimated that one in 10 girls globally have experienced rape or sexual violence from a current or former boyfriend or husband. Violence against girls and women persists in every country in the world. And it is deeply rooted in gender inequalities, as our recent blog discussed. The Covid-19 crisis has brought to light how much work remains to be done to end gender-based violence globally.
On the 16th of November, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Third Committee established its fourth resolution on child, early and forced marriage (CEFM), which aims to maintain international pressure in their commitment to ending child marriages.
“Child, early and forced marriage is an abuse of human rights and a major obstacle to the fulfilment of women’s and girls’ potential. Too often, it results in an end to their education and in health complications, and it puts them at higher risk of encountering discrimination and violence throughout their lives,” stresses the UN Resolution. Unless ending child marriage is prioritised in the global response to the pandemic, the implications for girls’ futures around the world will be devastating.
Here at JAN Trust, our mission is to combat forced marriages. There are no religious reasons for forced marriage and it is a crime and deprivation of human rights. We launched an award–winning Forced Marriage campaign in 2011. We battle this fight by providing resources and teaching awareness to thousands of participants in the community with the same agenda. We provide highly credible and expert training designed to raise awareness, deconstruct myths and enable statutory and voluntary sectors to offer efficient and appropriate responses to their clients and service users concerning forced marriages. Our training is both culturally sensitive and seeks to educate on religious provisions and marriage. We are extremely proud of our awareness raising and preventative work around the issue of Forced Marriages.
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