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African girls suffer double from the COVID-19 pandemic, report says

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Aakash Molpariya
Aakash started in Nov 2018 as a writer at Revyuh.com. Since joining, as writer, he is mainly responsible for Software, Science, programming, system administration and the Technology ecosystem, but due to his versatility he is used for everything possible. He writes about topics ranging from AI to hardware to games, stands in front of and behind the camera, creates creative product images and much more. He is a trained IT systems engineer and has studied computer science. By the way, he is enthusiastic about his own small projects in game development, hardware-handicraft, digital art, gaming and music. Email: aakash (at) revyuh (dot) com

The United Nations Population Fund reveals that there were more pregnancies, “arranged” marriages and rapes

The effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic affect the population unequally and those people who are at the intersections of different inequalities (gender, poverty, ethnicity or sexual orientation) are the ones who are being most affected.

As has happened in times of crisis throughout history, cases of gender-based violence, the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, adolescent pregnancies and child marriages are increasing, thus increasing gender discrimination.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, during periods of confinement, gender-based violence increases globally by 20% on average. This means that after six months of confinement there have been 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence.

Confinement measures as well as the closure of schools have meant that many girls have been forced to return to their parents’ home, a place that is not always a safe space. In Sierra Leone, NGOs such as Save the Children launched a program to feed vulnerable girls living in informal settlements in the poorest areas of the country.

They wanted to avoid the increase in teenage pregnancies that occurred during the Ebola pandemic in 2014. At that time, the number of pregnancies in minors increased by 65% ​​compared to previous years and most of these girls had been forced to have transactional sex in exchange for covering their basic food needs”, explains Núria Pedrós Barnils, a Health Systems Researcher.

In Uganda and Kenya, experts have echoed teenage pregnancies resulting from girls living with people who have abused them or have used sexual relations as a bargaining chip to meet their basic needs. In the case of Uganda, to alleviate this situation, a Child Protection Committee has been created with the collaboration of international organizations such as World Vision in areas with a higher incidence.

Thirteen million child marriages

According to the UN, due to the pandemic, it is expected that in the next decade there will be 13 million additional child marriages, of which 4 million will occur in the next two years. This number is in addition to the 12 million girls who are married annually.

In Central and Western Sub-Saharan Africa there are 6 of the 10 countries where this practice is most prevalent: 4 out of 10 girls marry before the age of 18. Niger is the country in the world with the highest prevalence of child marriages: 3 out of 4 girls are married before the age of 18 and 1 in 3 before the age of 15.

 This practice is rooted in gender inequality and patriarchal structures, as well as factors of poverty, lack of educational level and economic insecurities that are exacerbated during periods of crisis – warns Maria Celeste Ruiz, also from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and co-author of the document. Furthermore, it should be mentioned that in many areas of Africa, female genital mutilation is still practised before marriage.

Ethiopia is the 15th country in the world with the highest rate of child marriages. Although its Penal Code criminalizes child marriage, the country has a total of 15 million married girls. Although the number of child marriages had decreased from 60% to 40% in the last two decades, these advances are currently being lost due to lockdown and school closures. The educational centers carried out case tracing and mediated with national law.

In Kenya, the closure of schools meant for many girls the closure of their safe spaces where they had escaped cutting or forced marriages. Several schools have expressed concern about the possible non-return of many girls and adolescents to school when they reopen.

In South Sudan, a country where 45% of its population is under the age of 18, 3.1 million children cannot go to schools because 60% are destroyed. According to UNICEF, 52% of women marry before the age of 18 and 9% before the age of 15, with South Sudan being the sixth country in the world with the highest prevalence of child marriages.

Speak as a way to exist

In order to reverse this situation, various groups of women activists have been conducting awareness campaigns during confinement in different areas with high incidence of child marriages and teenage pregnancies.

In these campaigns they have emphasized the importance of education for girls and have demystified rumors from certain sectors of the population that say that they must marry before the end of the pandemic. There have been situations where girls have been forced to marry due to lack of financial support at home and waiting for the husband to pay school fees.

“It is necessary, especially in times of crisis such as the current one, to protect the rights of girls by ensuring a safe space for their proper development. This necessarily implies enjoying complete primary and secondary education and not being forced directly or indirectly to have sex or to marry. We must end the cycle of poverty that child motherhood implies and guarantee these girls their fundamental rights”, the specialists conclude in their document.

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