The corona pandemic is leading to a significant increase in child marriages and jeopardizing progress toward gender equality for girls. According to a new report by Save the Children, half a million more girls will be forced into marriage in 2020 alone. Even one million more minors could become pregnant and risk losing their lives, as births are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15 to 19.

Hibo is 17 years old and comes from Somalia. Due to the Corona Pandemic she could not go to school anymore. Her parents wanted her to marry an older man. Hibo attends a children's rights group of Save the Children and was able to dissuade her parents from the decision with the help of her school director.

An estimated 500,000 more girls risk being forced into child marriage and as many as one million more are expected to become pregnant in 2020 as a result of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, new analysis from Save the Children reveals—a year-over-year increase of four and three per cent, respectively.

The increase comes on top of the previous estimated rates of child marriage, which already anticipated 12 million girls being forced into marriage this year. While this increase represents a conservative estimate, it marks a significant surge in child marriage rates with an expected spike in teenage pregnancies and school dropouts to follow. The increase is set to reverse 25 years of progress, which saw child marriage rates decline.

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

Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International

The report also shows

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Early Marriage Up to 2.5 million additional girls are expected to marry over the next five years. Together with the 58.4 million child marriages taking place on average every five years, this amounts to a staggering 61 million child marriages by 2025*. Girls in South Asia are disproportionately impacted by the risk of increased child marriage this year (191,000), followed by West and Central Africa (90,000), and Latin America and the Caribbean (73,400). The practice is also expected to rise in East Asia and the Pacific (61,000), Europe and Central Asia (37,200), and the Middle East and North Africa (14,400). The risk of adolescent pregnancy in 2020 is highest for girls in East and Southern Africa (282,000), followed by West and Central Africa (260,000) and Latin America and the Caribbean (181,000).

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Humanitarian crises Although data is limited, girls affected by humanitarian crises—like wars, floods, droughts, earthquakes, and disease outbreaks—face the greatest risks of child marriage. Nine of the ten countries with the highest rates of child marriage are considered fragile states.

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Closure of schools COVID-19 school closures have interrupted education for 1.6 billion children and experience during the Ebola outbreak suggests many girls will never return due to increasing pressure to work, risk of child marriage, bans on pregnant girls attending school and lost contact with education. Risks are especially high for girls without distance learning options.

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Gender-specific violence • Gender-based violence was a pandemic long before COVID-19, with an estimated one in 10 girls globally having experienced rape or sexual violence from a current or former boyfriend or husband. The coronavirus has now led to increased reports of gender-based violence around the world.

A growing risk of violence and sexual exploitation combined with growing food and economic insecurity—especially in humanitarian emergencies—also means many parents feel they have little alternative but to force their girls to marry men who are often much older. These marriages violate girls’ rights and leave them at increased risk of depression, lifelong violence, disabilities, and even death—including from childbirth, given their bodies simply aren’t ready to bear children.

Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International

Sunita's drawing showing how her new husband takes her away from school.

Sunita also drew her dreams for the future.

Patience (16) drew an episode from her past when she said her then husband would beat her up.

Patience (16) drew her dream; to become a nurse in the future.

Tatu is 17 years old, mother of two children, who got married three years ago. The second drawing shows her current situation with her family. Here is the work she has to do to earn income. She cuts down a tree to make charcoal. And there is the apartment building where they currently live, since they do not have their own house.

This drawing shows Tatu's future plans. She plans to have her own barn and to start with dairy farming.

Here I (Subira, 16) explain my current situation. The big picture in the middle represents me. The picture in the middle top right explains the current situation between me and my father. The pictures show that my father speaks to me rudely and I cry. I no longer have a good relationship with my father.

This last picture shows where I want to stand in the future. Let me start with the first big picture on the left side?


Save the Children runs programmes and is campaigning to address the growing risk of gender-based violence against girls, including child marriage, while supporting girls’ rights to education, health and empowerment so they can participate in decision-making from the community to the global level.

As world leaders prepare to meet at the UN General Assembly in New York today to make commitments to speed up progress for gender inequality on the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Women’s Conference—which, in 1995, led all governments to commit to a ‘Platform for Action’ to achieve equality for women and girls

Sunita, 16, from India’s Bihar state, was forced to marry and leave school at the age of 12. She now advocates against child marriage in her village, participating in community events to raise awareness of girls’ rights.

Save the Children is calling on them to:

  1. Raise girls’ voices by supporting their right to safe and meaningful participation in all public decision-making through the COVID-19 response, recovery and beyond. This includes putting adolescent girls at the centre of the Beijing+25 and Generation Equality decision-making and accountability processes.
  2. Act to address immediate and ongoing risks of gender-based violence: recognise that child protection workers and those who address gender-based violence provide ‘essential services’; strengthen protective systems; act on the UN Secretary-General’s global ceasefire on domestic violence; and continue to implement transformative programming to address the root causes of gender-based violence.
  3. End child marriage and support girls who are already married to realise their rights—through law reform; national action plans that span various sectors like health, education, etc.; and working with communities to build support to change harmful gender norms that cause gender-based violence, including child marriage.
  4. Invest in girls now with new, not repackaged, investments to prevent the worst outcomes of COVID-19 for girls, and to enable progress and lasting change.
  5. Count every girl with improved data collection to put the girls who have been pushed furthest behind first, particularly in humanitarian contexts. This includes disaggregating data by sex, age-group and disability; conducting and building on analysis that looks at how gender and other identities—like class, race and disability—affect girls; and ensuring existing databases on child marriage, including child marriage in humanitarian contexts, fill this critical data gap in accountability to girls.

There’s no doubt the pandemic has made existing gender inequalities worse and risks reversing hard-won progress made over the last few decades. We cannot, and must not, let things spiral even further. t’s time for world leaders to come together to protect a generation of girls so they don’t miss out on the life-changing opportunities they’re just as entitled to as boys, including education. Girls must have a seat at any decision-making table that involves their rights so they can design the future they choose.

Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International

Report: Global Girlhood report 2020: COVID-19 and Progress in Peril The corona pandemic is leading to a significant increase in child marriages and jeopardizing progress toward gender equality for girls. According to a new report by Save the Children, half a million more girls will be forced into marriage in 2020 alone. pdf - 3,41 MB

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