World Vision International says millions of children are forced into early marriages because of increased poverty levels, rising hunger and reduced access to education as part of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It said the number of children experiencing crisis level hunger around the world increased by 12 million between 2019 and 2020, meaning an additional 3.3 million children could be married before the age of 18.
This was contained in World Vision’s assessment on children and families across nine countries in the Asia-Pacific region from April to June 2021.
The assessment said 82 per cent of children interviewed who were married, got married in the ‘heat’ of the pandemic.
World Vision’s data indicated that the year 2020 saw the largest increase in child marriage cases in the last 25 years – between March to December 2020, child marriages more-than doubled in many communities compared to 2019.
The report highlighted the impact that school closures had had in increasing child marriage cases and revealed that children who were not presently in school were 3.4 times more likely to be married than their peers currently in school.
“Despite the global community’s pledge to end child marriage by 2030 as part of the SDGs, progress remains slow. Because the pandemic has increased poverty levels and hunger, and decreased access to education, the risk of girls becoming child brides is also increasing.
“Once again, girls bear the brunt of the crisis, with many being robbed of education and forced to marry men, some of whom are double their age” said Ms. Dana Buzducea, World Vision International Partnership Leader for Advocacy and External Engagement.
She added that, “Five million primary and secondary school-age girls are potentially missing out on education as a result of COVID-19. These girls are at high risk of child marriage.
“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 focused on dealing with the fallout from the economic impacts of COVID-19, must also prioritise the protection of the world’s most vulnerable children at risk of suffering aftershocks of the pandemic.
“We cannot allow millions of children to be forced into child marriage because their parents, who are suffering from increased poverty and hunger levels, are left with little or no option than to face the horrific choice between which child they should keep and be able to feed, and which should be married.
“There are enough resources in the world to ensure all are fed and educated, without children being forced into marriage for survival. We must act now to prevent this.”
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (2020), Ghana is home to over two million child brides, including; currently married girls along with women who were first married in childhood.
World Vision Ghana as part of efforts at slowing down rates of child marriages has put in place a five-year (2017-2021) campaign on the theme, “End Child Marriage Now! It Takes Us All”.
The goal is to contribute to a 5 per cent reduction in the prevalence of child marriages in Ghana through improved enforcement of the laws.