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Half a million more girls are at risk of child marriage in 2020 because of Covid-19, charity warns

The pandemic has put 500,000 more girls at risk of being forced into child marriage this year, reversing 25 years of progress that saw child marriage rates decline, according to a new report by the charity Save the Children.

Before the global outbreak, 12 million girls married each year, now the charity warns that up to 2.5 million more girls could be at risk of child marriage over the next five years.

With up to 117 million children estimated to fall into poverty in 2020, many will face pressure to work and help provide for their families.

“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, said in a press release.

The pandemic led to school closures and “experience during the Ebola outbreak suggests many girls will never return” to class due “to increasing pressure to work, risk of child marriage, bans on pregnant girls attending school, and lost contact with education,” the charity wrote.

This year, 191,200 girls in South Asia will be disproportionately affected by the risk of increased child marriage, the report says. It is followed by West and Central Africa, where 90,000 girls are at risk of child marriage, Latin America and the Caribbean (73,400), and Europe and Central Asia (37,200).

Girls affected by humanitarian crises, such as wars, floods and earthquakes, face the greatest risk of child marriage, the report notes. Before the pandemic, data showed child marriage was increasing among refugee populations. In Lebanon, child marriage among Syrian refugee girls rose by 7% between 2017 and 2018.

“Every year, around 12 million girls are married, 2 million before their 15th birthday,” Ashing said. “Half a million more girls are now at risk of this gender-based violence this year alone — and these only are the ones we know about. We believe this is the tip of the iceberg.”

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