Made in Crisis

COVID-19 is leading to a rise in child marriages in India

31 July 2021
A recent report by The Wire revealed that the number of child marriages across India from June to October 2020 increased by over a third compared to the same period in 2019.
Prakash Hatvalne / AP Photo
A recent report by The Wire revealed that the number of child marriages across India from June to October 2020 increased by over a third compared to the same period in 2019.
Prakash Hatvalne / AP Photo

One morning in April, an anxious 15-year-old girl boarded a bus by herself, near her parents’ home in Fatehnagar, a town in Rajasthan. After being beaten and forced to get married by her parents—both daily-wage workers—she realised the only way to slip out of this situation and continue with her education was to make a run for it. Soon after boarding the local bus, she called a local anti-child-marriage activist and told her she would reach their office in roughly two hours.

“I was scared and didn’t know what to do,” the young adolescent, who dreams of becoming a police officer someday, told me. “This was the only thing I could think of.” Her brother’s wedding had been fixed, and her parents, who have not been able to earn much due to the lack of work during the COVID-19 pandemic, thought they could use the dowry money to get their daughter married.

As the pandemic ravages India, leading to lockdowns and school closures, it has resulted in an unexpected problem: underage girls being married off by their families as a way out of financial stress. India, the highest contributor to child marriages in the world as per a 2019 UNICEF report, is not alone in this current predicament. There has been a surge in child marriages in several other developing nations, including Nepal, Ethiopia and Malawi. A recent UNICEF report warns that the pandemic has put 10 million young girls around the world at risk of becoming child brides over the next decade.

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    Varsha Bansal is an independent journalist based in Bengaluru.

    Keywords: COVID-19 child marriage UNICEF
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