INDIA – Child marriage & teenage pregnancy: the Covid-19 connection

Child marriage has been steadilyincreasing during the lockdownand this is extremely worrisome. Even in pre lockdown years, the number of child marriages in India was problematic.Girls Not Bridesstates that27% of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday and 7% are married before the age of 15. According to UNICEF, India has the highest absolute number of child brides in the world – 15,509,000. Now with the lockdown in place, the numbers are expected to shoot up.

John Roberts, Programme Head, Southern Region, C.R.Y (Child Rights and You) says, “In the lockdown, the livelihood scenario is hit so badly. There is greater stress, indebtedness and desperation. Famine and poverty have become worse. There is a huge connect between livelihood stress and pushing children into marriage.”

When schools were functional, it kept the children in schools. Most parents and communities would not dare to get the children married, as it would bring in trouble for them with the alert and responsible school authorities reporting the plans or the marriage itself to the child protection services. However, with the lockdown in place and schools shut, Vasudev Sharma, Executive Director, CRT-Child Rights Trust, says, “Economic factors are the primary reason for most of the child marriages. I see child marriages at two levels – one, families want free labour (younger the girl, more obedient and subservient she is); second, the son of the family will come back to the house every evening (and will not go in search of love outside).”

Hidden Pockets, by Nishitha Aysha Ashraf, 27 May 2020