Covid-19: Economic hardship leading to spike in child marriages

Radheshyam Jadhav | Updated on July 06, 2020

Child marriage (file photo)

Tatvasheel Kamble, member of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in Beed district, is a busy man these days. In the last few months, he has received about 54 complaints of child marriage, but he says that there would be many more such cases that might not have reached him. Activists say that economic hardship during the lockdown has led to a spike in child marriages.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has crippled the economy and children in poor families will face the direct impact. Girls would suffer most. Already girls are considered as a burden on the family, and now families would want to get rid of minor girls by marrying them off at an early age. We are busy stopping child marriages,” said Kamble. He added that in rural parts, girls are being married off even at the tender age of nine.

Beed-based social activist Manisha Tokle, said, “ If you move around in rural parts you might see a spike in cases of child marriage. Covid-19 has left the poor in distress, who are rushing to marry off their minor daughters. Child marriages ruin the lives of girls. They are vulnerable to sexual violence and early pregnancies.”

In some cases like that of Sheetal Toge from Pimpla village in Beed, girls have to pay a heavy price. Thirteen-year-old Sheetal was married last year, and last week her father Prakash Bhange strangled her to death. He was agitated that Sheetal repeatedly came to her parents’ house saying that she wants to live with them and not with her husband. The labourer father struggling to earn a livelihood was unwilling to shoulder the “burden” and killed her, according to the police.

Tanaji Patil, Chairman of CWC in Raigad district said, “Unemployment, migration, and rise in poverty because of Covid-19 will affect children and cases of child marriages will multiply. The government must take steps to engage girls in the routine education system or skill development and make education till graduation completely free.”

United Nations Polulation Fund’s State of World Population Report, 2020, observed that child marriage has been shown to increase during humanitarian crises caused by natural disasters or conflicts. “Furthermore, girls deprived of educational opportunities during crises are then seen as remaining “inactive” at home, furthering the perception that marriage is a positive transition for girls with limited options,” the report added.

The report said that another driver of child marriages during crises is the increased risk of sexual violence and assault that accompanies the weakening of social institutions. In such situations, some families see marriage as a way to protect girls’ “honour” and, by extension, that of the family.

Published on July 06, 2020

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