It has been almost a year since COVID-19 has made its presence felt. Out of many effects it has left, one of the major has been the increasing risk of child marriages and the threats it has presented to the adolescent girls. In the last one-year CRY has seen instances of child marriages almost doubling up in the operational areas of Shramika Vikasa Kendram (SVK SVK comprising of 52 villages in the Wanaparthy & Nagarkurnool districts of Telangana.
The year 2020 saw 34 child marriages as compared to 18 instances of the same, as reported in 2019. Also, 6 child marriages were stopped in 2020 as compared to 17 the previous year (2019-20) by SVK, a local NGO supported by CRY – Child Rights and You.
According to SVK personnel, the number of cases in which early marriages were averted could have been higher, if their reach has not been reduced during the lockdown months.
“It was very difficult for our partner organisations to reach out to the families in the remote villages during the initial phase of the pandemic, when lockdown was at its stringent best. Additionally, COVID-19 affected many families with massive cases of job loss resulting in reduced income, which added onto the plight of girls being forced into child marriages. We, through our VCPC (Village Child Protection Committee) network and through increased vigilance beefed up our surveillance to avert as many child marriages as possible,” said John Roberts, Programme Head of CRY Development Support (DS) team (South)
“Partner teams visited all high-risk adolescent girls’ houses and interacted face to face with family members and given awareness and counselling both on Covid19 and Negative impact of Child Marriage. Community organizers have engaged adolescent girls in Child Rights activities, which also made the girls feel safe and protected”, said Laxman Rao, Head of SVK. According to several media reports The Telangana State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (TSCPCR) has reported 204 cases in the first three months (Mar-May 2020) of last year since the pandemic broke in, increasing the rate of child marriage instances in case of distress situations.
According to the latest census figure, Girls constitute 73 percent of the married children in India and 83 percent of the married children are within the age-group of 15-19, making the adolescent girls the most vulnerable of the lot. According to a study (Educating the Girl Child 2019) conducted by CRY, 60.6% people dropped out as parents could not afford. For school going girls, no resistance from family and community was a strong motivating factor to continue education. Majority of the girls reported that they did not face any resistance from family and community to continue education (97% and 98% respectively)
What is more worrying is that the pandemic can reverse the gains made in addressing child marriage over the past years. Though there is scarcity of available data from all states, but as reported by the media, the state governments have intervened to stop over 5,584 child marriages across the country during the lockdown months.
As per the data collected from the CRY intervention areas reveal, along with the partner organizations in 19 states, CRY has been able to avert 2031 cases of child marriage in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
According to John Roberts, “Experience gathered from the ground suggests that education can play a crucial role in addressing the issue of under-age marriage. When a girl is dropped out of school, she becomes more vulnerable to child marriage. Data shows that lack of opportunities for schooling tend to push girls out of the education system, especially when it comes to those from marginalized sections, increasing their risk of marriage and early pregnancy.”
While preventive measures and stringent actions are extremely important, the civil society should come forward and support the government to address the issue,” John added.