The economic crisis inflicted by the novel coronavirus pandemic has resulted in an increase in child marriages among impoverished communities – necessitating immediate interventions by the government to stop them.
In a telephonic survey of more than 57,000 women and children, rights organisation Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) found that 462 child marriages occurred in 53 districts in June – up from 170 the month before.
The partners of the MJF, who collected the data, managed to prevent 207 marriages with the help of influential people in the communities and the local government authorities.
In many cases, parents were reluctant to change their decisions even after extensive persuasion efforts were made, speakers said at a virtual press briefing organised by the MJF yesterday.
Against the backdrop of the economic downturn – that has led to job and income losses both in formal and informal sectors – early marriage has become a way for families to rid themselves of the responsibility of caring for their girls.
The popular social perception about girls and women being a burden of the family plays a role here.
The prolonged closure of educational institutions and the disruptions to the efforts to prevent child marriages are worsening the situation, the rights organisation said in a presentation given by MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam.
There was also no respite from domestic abuse, with 98 percent of women and 61 percent of children – survivors of violence – falling victim to it.
"Domestic violence against women and girls is rooted in unequal power relations in families, as well as the undervaluation and non-recognition of their contribution," the MJF said.
The pandemic has also widened gender inequalities. Women and children have suffered from: rape, attempted rape, sexual harassment, and mental torture. Boys faced violence at work more than girls.
The MJF has been carrying out telephonic surveys, since April, to understand the impact of the pandemic on the wellbeing of women and children. Additionally, it has been providing support to the victims in the form of counseling, legal aid and treatment.