The effects of Covid-19 are adding further complications to communities who were already living in extreme hardship before the crisis began. School closures, rising poverty, abuse, pregnancy and parental deaths are putting the most vulnerable girls at increased risk of child marriage.
According to a recent report (Covid-19: A threat to progress against child marriage, March 2021) by the charity, Unicef, there is a real danger that the Covid-19 pandemic may cause the greatest surge in child marriage in 25 years. They project that an estimated ten million child marriages could occur before the end of the decade.
Our in-country partners, the Sisters of Mary, tell us that many of the young girls they help through their poverty-relief education programmes, are vulnerable to forced early marriages. The extreme economic disadvantages that afflict the poorest communities in the developing world, can sometimes push young girls as young as twelve into early marriage to relieve financial pressure on a family.
At the start of the pandemic last year, the former President of Tanzania ordered that all the girls in our care at the school in Dar es Salaam should return to their homes until further notice. This caused the Sisters some considerable concern. The girls come from complex family backgrounds and they feared that many of their young charges could be forced into early marriages. On average, one in three girls in Tanzania is married before they turn 18 and in rural areas, some girls are married as young as 11.(Source: Plan International) Thousands of adolescent girls drop out of school because of pregnancy.
With the intervention of the Sisters most of the girls were able to return to the care of the Sisters at the school in July but unfortunately one of the grade 7 girls from our school became the victim of rape during her time at home and fell pregnant. This made it impossible for her to return when the school re-opened.. Government policies in Tanzania specifically discriminate against girls, not allowing schools to accept pregnant and married girls, robbing them of an education. Her family were hoping for an early marriage for the girl which would result in the exchange of cattle.
On a recent field trip to the remote Guerrero Mountains in Mexico, a representative of our US affiliate charity met a 12-year-old girl, from a desperately poor village, who had been offered a place at our secondary school in Chalco. She was extremely grateful for the opportunity as she knew her family were desperate for money and had promised her as a child bride if she remained in the village.
Forcing girls into early marriage means that they face immediate and lifelong consequences. Sadly, they are more likely to experience domestic violence, are less likely to remain in school and face a lifetime of deprivation.
Education is sacrosanct as it unlocks the potential of children to lift themselves out of poverty. It helps provide an equal chance for every child to live a better, self-supporting and productive life. Early marriages for girls denies them this precious opportunity.
Fundraising and Comms Manager
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