Bangladesh is one of the five countries accounting for half of the world's child marriages. The four other countries are India, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Brazil, according to a new study released by Unicef on the occasion of International Women's Day.
The study report titled "Covid-19: A threat to progress against child marriage" said 10 million additional early marriages may occur in the next decade, threatening to reverse the progress in preventing them.
School closures, economic stress, service disruptions, pregnancy and parental deaths due to the pandemic are putting the most vulnerable at an increased risk of child marriage.
Worldwide, 650 million girls and women alive today were married before the marital age of 18.
In the past decade, the proportion of young women who were married in childhood globally declined by 15%, from nearly one in four to one in five. That means marriages of nearly 25 million girls have been averted.
To off-set the impacts of Covid-19 and end the practice by 2030 – a target set in the Sustainable Development Goals – progress must be significantly accelerated, the report said.
"One year into the pandemic, immediate action is needed to mitigate the toll on girls and their families. By reopening schools, implementing effective laws and policies, ensuring access to health and social services – including sexual and reproductive health services – and providing comprehensive social protection measures for families, we can significantly reduce a girl's risk of having her childhood stolen through child marriage," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
Child marriage was commonplace even before the coronavirus outbreak. The pre-Covid projections put the figure of child brides in the next decade at 100 million.
The social practice affects a majority of the girls in many countries, while in others, the most vulnerable among them.
The global progress in ending child marriage to date has been stronger among wealthier segments of society. But the poorest girls have largely been outside this development.
South Asia has seen the highest decline in early marriage of women aged 20-24 years.
"The drive to end child marriage needs to consider the entire lifecycle of a child, especially by addressing persisting negative social norms and ensuring that girls stay in school and learn, and have access to life skills and career opportunities to succeed and thrive," said Yasmin Ali Haque, Unicef's India representative.