The report said that the levels of child marriage were highest in sub-Saharan Africa, where 35 per cent of young women were married before the age of 18 which was followed by South Asia. (Representative image)
The report said that the levels of child marriage were highest in sub-Saharan Africa, where 35 per cent of young women were married before the age of 18 which was followed by South Asia. (Representative image)

Unicef report on child marriages has a stark warning for India, 4 more countries

  • The report said that closing of schools, economic stress, parental deaths and pregnancies due to the coronavirus pandemic could increase the risk of child marriage.
By hindustantimes.com | Edited by Mallika Soni, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 08, 2021 09:21 PM IST

Five countries, including India, accounted for about half of the world’s girls who were married before the age of 18, a report released by the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (Unicef) said on Monday. The report, ‘Covid-19: A threat to progress against child marriage’, released on International Women’s Day estimated that 650 million girls and women alive today got married in childhood and about half of them are in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, India and Nigeria. “In the last ten years, the proportion of young women globally who were married as children had decreased by 15 per cent, from nearly 1 in 4 to 1 in 5, the equivalent of some 25 million marriages averted, a gain that is now under threat,” it also said.

Read more: Closure of 1.5mn schools impacted 247mn children in India: Unicef study

The United Nations agency said that the levels of child marriage were highest in sub-Saharan Africa, where 35 per cent of young women were married before the age of 18 which was followed by South Asia, where nearly 30 per cent of women were married before they turned 18. Latin America and the Caribbean had about 24 per cent of child marriages and the Middle East and North Africa had 17 per cent of child marriages. Eastern Europe and Central Asia had about 12 per cent of child marriages according to the report.

Impact of Covid-19

The report said that closing of schools, economic stress, parental deaths and pregnancies due to the coronavirus pandemic could increase the risk of child marriage.

Read more: '375 mn Indian children may suffer due to Covid-19 pandemic': CSE report

“Covid-19 has made an already difficult situation for millions of girls even worse. Shuttered schools, isolation from friends and support networks, and rising poverty have added fuel to a fire the world was already struggling to put out. But we can and we must extinguish child marriage,” Unicef’s executive director Henrietta Fore said.

Situation before the pandemic

At least 100 million girls were at risk of child marriage in the next decade even before the pandemic. But, according to Unicef, the proportion of young women who were married as children had decreased by 15 per cent in the last 10 years globally and that the equivalent of around 25 million marriages had been averted in that period. “Through the Sustainable Development Goals, the world committed to ending child marriage by 2030. This obligation extends to the 10 million girls whose futures are now in jeopardy along with the 100 million girls at risk of becoming child brides before the pandemic began,” the report said.

Read more: School shut, digital divide: How Covid upended education

Solutions to the problem

Fore advised countries to take action and implement effective laws and practices while ensuring access to health as well as social services. Fore also recommended reopening schools that were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and also providing comprehensive social protection measures for families. By taking these steps, Fore added that “we can significantly reduce a girl’s risk of having her childhood stolen through child marriage”.

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