The Daily Telegraph

Coronaviru­s puts 13m more girls at risk of child marriage


THE pandemic could lead to an additional 13million child marriages worldwide over the next decade, children’s rights experts have warned.

A report by Save the Children and Plan Internatio­nal has warned that nearly 10million children – mostly girls – may never return to school following lockdowns.

It also highlights the increased threat of online sex abuse and domestic violence due to prolonged confinemen­t at home.

According to the United Nations, an extra 15million gender-based violence cases are expected for every three months the lockdown continues.

The report warns that for many girls, the additional risks of child or forced marriage could become more of a threat than the virus itself.

Asia is home to more than half of the world’s 1.1billion girls, and those currently not in school are at higher risk of exploitati­on. Families facing limited financial resources are more likely to arrange child or forced marriages as a “negative coping mechanism”.

Despite progress in combating marriage under the age of 18, South Asia remains home to more than 40 per cent of all child brides globally.

The report concludes that “Covid-19 will hamper” prevention efforts, citing UN prediction­s of an extra 13million child marriages between 2020 and 2030.

“The consequenc­es for girls are severe, as they are often forced out of education and into a life of poor prospects, with increased risk of exposure to violence, abuse, forced sexual relations and early pregnancy, which carries high risks of maternal mortality and morbidity,” it says.

“Due to the current pandemic, many girls are giving up their learning opportunit­ies for marriage to alleviate the new economic hardship,” Huu, an 18-year-old Vietnamese girl, told researcher­s.

Others are trying to fight back. “When I learned that my parents wanted to marry me off, I knew I couldn’t let it happen,” said Phulan, 18, from Nepal. “With community support, I told my parents I’d go to the police if they didn’t give up.”

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