In India, and in developing countries around the world, the COVID-19 crisis has significantly increased the risk of child marriage. But there’s one way to protect the future of girls everywhere: an education.
This is an edited excerpt from “The Child Brides of COVID-19,” which originally appeared on Holt Stories in May 2021.
Across the globe, girls who marry young are more likely to experience domestic violence. They are at increased risk of early and unplanned pregnancy. They can become isolated from family and friends. And as the demands of housework and motherhood take up their time, they are less likely to stay in school.
The global COVID crisis may set back decades of progress even in communities where our partners had effectively ended the practice of child marriage. But one key factor continues to make a dramatic difference in the lives of girls and women. And that’s keeping girls in school.
When schools closed due to the pandemic, our partners immediately recognized the risks to children, especially girls. Out-of-school children are at greater risk of not just early marriage, but also child labor, trafficking and exploitation. Through the generous support of Holt sponsors and donors, however, our partners had the resources they needed to maintain critical contact with children isolated at home.
They distributed mobile phones and laptops, which made it possible for children to do schoolwork online but also allowed for remote social work visits. BSSK moved summer camps and trainings for children and parents online. In Delhi, our partner started both a video blog to connect with children and a podcast to provide ongoing guidance and support to parents. Sponsored children received science and art kits in addition to regular school supplies, while their families received emergency food, medicine and even cash to pay rent and bills during periodic lockdowns. Most of all, our social workers continue to regularly visit families — remotely and, whenever possible, at a safe distance in person.
Sponsors make all of this possible. Through their compassion and generosity, and the efforts of our on-the-ground teams, many marriages that would have happened as a result of the pandemic have been prevented.
While still working under emergency conditions, our partners have already mapped out the work that needs to be done to regain progress lost during this ongoing crisis.
“In the coming period, a lot of rework needs to be done … [Support from] sponsors and donors will accelerate the process of reform,” says Vaishali, who shares that BSSK has already planned a prevention program for children and parents on the topic of early marriage. “We hope to see a delay in the age of girl child marriage,” she says, “and greater freedom to take higher education, be confident and financially independent.”
Now more than ever, support to keep girls in school is needed in these communities in India — and in the communities where Holt works around the world. For girls, school is more than an education. It means opportunity. It means a stronger voice and greater autonomy over their lives. It’s a reason for hope.
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