Child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). "Every year, around 12 million girls are married, 2 million before their 15th birthday," says Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International . And adds, "Half a million more girls are now at risk of this gender-based violence this year alone, and these only are the ones we know about. We believe this is the tip of the iceberg."
Girls affected by humanitarian crises, such as wars, floods and earthquakes, face the greatest risk of child marriage, Save the Children International said in a press release. Before the pandemic, data showed child marriage was increasing among refugee populations. In Lebanon, child marriage among Syrian refugee girls rose by 7% between 2017 and 2018.
Now, "The pandemic means more families are being pushed into poverty, forcing many girls to work to support their families, to go without food, to become the main caregivers for sick family members, and to drop out of school, with far less of a chance than boys of ever returning," states Inger Ashing.
But that’s not all. The coronavirus pandemic is reversing progress on ending child marriage and also of female genital mutilation (FGM), jeopardising the futures of millions of girls. “The pandemic both makes our job harder and more urgent as so many more girls are now at risk,” says Natalia Kanem, head of the United Nations’ sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA.
Two million more could undergo FGM in the next decade, beyond what would have been expected, as COVID-19 disrupts global efforts to end both practices, according to UNFPA.
“When so many girls and women are unwanted, cut, erased, given, traded and sold, our common future is undermined. We should all be outraged,” Kanem told a news conference. There are at least 19 harmful practices, including violent sexual initiation rites, witchcraft accusations, branding, dowry-related violence, force-feeding and body modifications such as neck-elongation.
About 117 million children are estimated to fall into poverty in 2020. Many will face pressure to work and help provide for their families. Worse, 500,000 more girls will be at risk of being forced into child marriage, that means reversing 25 years of progress when child marriage rates were declining, says Save the Children in its report.
Before the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic, 12 million girls were married each year. After the outbreak up to 2.5 million more girls are at risk of child marriage during the coming five years, the Save the Children warns. A girl gets married every 2 seconds somewhere in the world.
The pandemic led to school closures and "experience during the Ebola outbreak suggests many girls will never return" to class due "to increasing pressure to work, risk of child marriage, bans on pregnant girls attending school, and loss of contact with education," the Save the Children writes.
As the report says, this year, 191,200 girls in South Asia will be at the risk of child marriage. In West and Central Africa, girls who are at risk of child marriage will be 90,000. In Latin America and the Caribbean 73,400, and Europe and Central Asia 37,200.
Three “stubbornly widespread” customs remain, despite almost universal condemnation, Kanem says: child marriage, FGM and the preference for sons over daughters, which leads to high numbers of unborn female being aborted. More than 140 million females are “missing” in the world today, mostly in China and India, due to prenatal sex selection or parents neglecting baby girls so badly that they die, according to UNFPA. Some 33,000 girls are forced into early marriage every day, usually to much older men, the report added, and an estimated 4.1 million are at risk of FGM this year.
See in CNN: Half a million more girls are at risk of child marriage in 2020 because of Covid-19 See also, COVID-19 and child, early and forced marriage: An agenda for action and COVID-19 increases child marriage and FGM risk for millions: UN