Pre-pandemic health emergencies, such as the Ebola outbreaks, have shown that girls face a higher risk of early marriage and pregnancy, because they lose access to school, social media and reproductive health services. The difficult economic situation, exacerbated by covid-19, could cause the number of girls forced to marry to increase around the world.
“In 2017 I attended a wedding for the first time, I will never forget it. When I finish my studies and turn 25, I want to get married and have a family, so that my parents have grandchildren ”. The one speaking is a young woman named Esta, 15, from Niger, who is clear that her priority now is her education. While some teens see marriage as part of their future, others are less clear on it. However, many times, the decision of when to marry and even who to marry is not always up to them.
“At 16, or sometimes; even at 14. Because the parents want to get rid of responsibility as soon as possible. Maybe because they don’t have money, they arrange a wedding so that the husband can take care of their daughter.” This is how Antsa, from Madagascar, explains how child marriage works in their region. But despite the many reasons why girls are forced, the idea that their life will change significantly once married is widespread among them. “I have no interest, because when it does I will have to obey my husband and lose my freedom, ”laments Sangamithra from India.
One consequence of early marriage is that adolescent girls are often unable to finish their studies, but also that the joys of childhood are lost. The memories these girls treasure are a stark reminder of how much is at stake. Something that many of them have seen for themselves.
We’ve heard stories of voices that we don’t usually hear, but what if we could do more than listen? What would the future look like if these girls were truly empowered to change their communities? This is how Trisha from Bangladesh sees it: “I want a social system where women and children are completely safe,” claims, aged 15, in Bangladesh. “Child marriage is a curse on our society. When a girl is a victim of him, is affected physically and emotionally, “he adds
Nankali Maksud is a senior consultant to the Unicef malpractice team and Kristin Andersson he is an officer in the child protection section of UNICEF.
The section En Primera Línea is a space in Planeta Futuro in which members of NGOs, international organizations and institutions, who work in the field, narrate their personal experiences in relation to the impact of their activity. They are always written in the first person and the responsibility for the content rests with the authors.