According to a new report by the charity Save the Children, the coronavirus pandemic has put around 500,000 more girls at risk of being forced into child marriage this year. This increase reverses the 25 years of progress that saw child marriage rates decline.

Increase in child marriages

Before the coronavirus pandemic that forced the world to put everything on hold, 12 million girls married each year. Now according to the report by Save the Children, up to 2.5 million more girls could be at risk of child marriage from 2020 to 2025.

In this year alone, up to 117 million children are estimated to fall into poverty, many of them will face pressure to work and to help provide for their families.

Inger Ashing, the CEO of Save the Children International, said in a press release that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in more families being pushed into poverty, forcing many girls to work to support their families, to go without food, and to become the main caregivers for sick family members.

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Some of the girls were forced to drop out of school due to the pressure of their family and personal lives. Girls have far less of a chance than boys of ever returning to school once the pandemic settles.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to school closures and the "experience during the Ebola outbreak suggests many girls will never return to school" due to the increasing pressure to work for their families, care for their family members, risk of child marriage, bans on pregnant girls attending school and lost contact with education.

In 2020, around 191, 200 girls in South Asia will be disproportionately affected by the risk of increased child marriage. It is followed by West and Central Africa, where 90,000 girls are at risk of child marriage.

Latin America and the Caribbean sees 73,400 child marriages and Europe and Central Asia sees 37, 200 child marriages, according to UNICEF.

The report notes that girls that are affected by humanitarian crises, such as floods, wars and earthquakes, face the greatest risk of child marriage.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, data showed child marriage was increasing among refugee populations. In Lebanon for example, child marriage among Syrian refugee girls rose by 7% between 2017 and 2018.

Ashing said that every year, around 12 million girls are married, 2 million are married before their 15th birthday.

Half a million girls are now at risk of this gender-based violence in 2020 alone, and these only are the ones that are known to the public.

Effects of child marriages

According to Girls Not Brides, married girls face isolation and limited freedom and they often feel disempowered.

The girls are deprived of their fundamental rights to health, education and safety as they are treated like a property by their husbands, especially in Middle Eastern countries.

Child brides are neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers. They face more risks of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, contracting HIV or AIDS, and suffering domestic violence.

With little access to education and economic opportunities, they and their families are more likely to live in poverty.

Child marriages undervalue the contribution and participation of girls and women limit their own possibilities for stability, growth and transformation.

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