Millions of children will be forced into early marriage because of increased poverty levels, rising hunger and reduced access to education, as a result of COVID-19– that is according to World Vision International’s latest report.
‘COVID-19 and child marriage’ report investigates how the aftershocks of the global pandemic will force children, who would not otherwise have been married off, into wedlock. As global hunger levels drastically increase, so will child marriage rates, with a hungry child being 60% more likely to be married than a child not experiencing hunger.
The World Vison report covering Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Ghana and India reveals that the surge in child marriage rates is already clearly taking place. The year 2020 saw the largest increase in child marriage rates in 25 years. According to World Vision data, between March to December 2020, child marriages more-than doubled in many communities compared to 2019. In an assessment of children and families across four countries from July to September 2021, World Vision found a strong correlation in three areas adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic: hunger, access to education and parental support.
“In as much as the global community’s pledge to end child marriage by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, the progress remains decelerated in the face of COVID-19 which has since increased poverty levels and hunger. The pandemic has posed a threat to the education system whilst increasing the risk of girls becoming brides. Vulnerable children, especially, girls will be forced to bear the brunt of yet another crisis as many will be forced out of school and some married of to men their fathers’ age,’ said World Vision Zimbabwe’s National Director, Assan Golowa.
The already-strained global food system is challenged by the combination of poverty, climate change and conflict, all exacerbated by the pandemic. Although the analysis was unable to determine cause, this strong correlation between hunger and child marriage could be a sign of increased risk for girls.
The report also highlights the impact that school closures has had in increasing child marriage rates and reveals that children who are not presently in school are 3.4 times more likely to be married than their peers currently in school.
Our analysis also showed an inverse relationship between parental support and the likelihood of child marriage. In particular, as caregiver support and encouragement increase, the likelihood of an adolescent being married significantly decreased
Five million primary and secondary school-age girls potentially missing out on an education as a result of COVID-19. These girls are at high risk of child marriage.
“It is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic causes a mental health crisis even for children hence they need support from the parents/guardians or caregivers. A case study done in Zimbabwe showed that children who don’t feel supported by their parents or caregivers are more likely to consider child marriage as a palatable alternative, it seems likely that a worsening situation at home might create another push factor for most girls.
“The root causes of child marriage drivers, such as hunger, poverty and access to education, must be urgently addressed. Governments around the world, who are focussed on dealing with the fallout from the economic impacts of COVID-19, must also prioritise the protection of the world’s most vulnerable children who are at risk of suffering aftershocks of the pandemic.
“From this review and analysis, World Vision aims to bring attention to the new challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created in the global effort to end child marriage. We believe that a world without all forms of violence against children—including child marriage—is possible, but it will take renewed focus, attention and strategy,” said Golowa.