Covid 19 has adverse effects on education, economy and people’s lives. It has disproportionately affected the lives of girls, especially in rural India. With lockdowns necessitated by a second wave of the pandemic and rising unemployment, girls are being forced into early marriage. Domestic violence and crimes against women soared this lockdown. The pandemic also led to a decline in decades of progress on child marriage and pregnancy.
In March 2021, UNICEF stated “Ten million additional child marriages may occur before the end of the decade, threatening years of progress in reducing the practice, according to a new analysis”. This statement was released on International Women’s Day, a day were we celebrate and empower women. Girls in parts of South Asia, Africa and Latin America are most vulnerable.
India is one among the five countries that account for half the number of child brides in the world. Child marriages were outlawed 90 years ago in the country. Despite the laws and other restrictions, the practice remains prevalent especially in rural areas. India, being an active member of the United Nations one of its major sustainable goal is to eradicate child marriages by 2030 and with the Covid 19 and lockdown attaining this goal seem to be a distant dream.
Covid 19 related school closures have interrupted the education of children especially the ones who belong to financially and socially distressed families. For many girls, online classes are simply inaccessible due to an existing digital gender gap. At home girls are been considered as a financial burden, instead of an asset and hence families from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds tend to marry their girls at a very young age.
Millions lost their jobs due to the prolonged lockdown, many of them young men returned to their hometowns because of loss of work. Parents of young girls are worried for their safety and anxious about the future prospects of their girls. Parents consider marriage as a safety net, they are afraid to leave their girls at home alone as chances of harassments and rapes are high. Evidently, domestic violence and crimes against women and girl children soared this pandemic.
Another reason is that, with the covid restrictions big fat weddings are been called off and hence parents with poor financial conditions have been quick to take up marriage offers as they need not pay much for their child’s wedding.
There were incidents where the girls agreed to marry and was not forced into this. Even with the consent of the child, it is legally not right and safe. Girls who marry in childhood face immediate and lifelong consequences. They are subjected to domestic violence and harassments, early and unprotected sex and pregnancies result in maternal complications and mortality. Girls are been pushed into a new home and adapting to the life changes is difficult. With the covid restrictions, travel and access to health care, community services and hospitals is difficult. Girls are stuck home, locked in with abusers and this takes a mental toll on them. They are been isolated from friends, school, teachers and their family.
One year into the pandemic, we are already losing lives, economy and everything we did to better the lives of children and women, the most suppressed section of the society. Patriarchal families may prevent girls from going back to school, lockdown has brought back the gender practices we were battling these years and not only child marriage/labor. We need immediate and strict actions to put an end to this ruthless practice.
If you need help to protect yourselves from child marriage, call child helpline number 1098 or call 100.