THE number of children being forced into marriages with adults has dramatically risen, with child trafficking rising over 600% in India since lockdown began. Meanwhile, a pandemic of brutal rape and murder continues to sweep the country.
Up to 2.5 million more girls around the world are also at risk of being forced into child marriage over the next five years as a result of the impact of Covid-19, according to a report by Save the Children.
The charity predicts the worst surge in rates of child marriage in 25 years, as the pandemic has shut down schools and pushed poor families further into destitution.
According to the report, Global Girlhood 2020: how Covid-19 is putting progress in peril, half a million more girls will be pushed into arranged marriage this year alone, reversing more than two decades of progress that had begun to push the practice into decline globally. It will bring the total number of child marriages to around 12.5m in 2020.
The report warns of 2020 being a year of “irreversible setbacks and lost progress” for girls. Around the world, school closures have interrupted the education of 1.6 billion children, and Save the Children estimates that 10 million children, mostly girls, will never return to school.
The report also predicts that a million more girls under 18 could fall pregnant this year, putting lives at risk with childbirth still the leading cause of death among 15- to 19-year-olds.
The worst affected region for the surge in child marriage is south Asia, where almost 200,000 more girls are expected to be forced into wedlock this year owing to economic strife caused by coronavirus.
India, which accounts for a third of all child marriages globally, has been one of the worst affected countries in the pandemic, both in terms of health and economy. The country has reported upwards of 6m cases of the virus, the second worst in the world, and its numbers are rising at the fastest rate globally.
The pandemic has also led to an increase in reports of child labour and child trafficking in India. Reports from poverty-stricken Indian states such as Jharkhand suggest that the number of children trafficked increased by more than 600% in April and May, during the lockdown.
The International Labour Organization recently said the coronavirus pandemic may lead to an increase in child labour for the first time in 20 years.
Meanwhile, brutal rapes and murders have seen a stark rise, with recent prominent cases causing outrage across the nation and the rest of the world.
There is also evidence to suggest that local police forces are actively working to cover-up such incidents – particularly when they involve those at the bottom of India’s backward and oppressive caste system.
The family members of a Dalit (formerly known as “untouchable”) girl in India who died after she was gang raped and tortured have now accused the authorities of forcefully cremating her body in the middle of the night without their consent.
The 19-year-old from a village in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district, 200km (124 miles) from the Indian capital New Delhi, was raped in a field near her house on September 14 by four suspects belonging to upper castes in the Hindu religion’s hierarchy.