Thousands of teenage girls in Southeast Asia and the Pacific are being forced to drop out of school and get married as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a charity warned, saying “a generation of girls could be lost.”
A new report Plan International Australia highlighted the importance of secondary education for girls and detailed the increased risk and long-term impacts of child, early and forced marriage in the region.
“At the heart of child marriage is the view that girls are an economic burden,” executive director of the gender equality charity Susanne Legena told The Guardian. “When girls marry, they are considered adults and their education generally stops.”
“Your job then is to be a wife and a mother.”
Last year, Save the Children found that the next four years could see up to 250,000 adolescent girls in Southeast Asia and the Pacific face child, early and forced marriages.
In Indonesia, in the first half of 2020, the number of applications to marry minors was more than two and a half times the figure for all of 2012, Plan International said. Last year, some 33,000 girls were married.
In June and July 2020, India’s children’s helpline recorded a 17% increase in early marriage distress calls compared to the same period in 2019.
Dropping out of school also disrupts girls’ sexual and reproductive health education, Legena said, and girls who leave school early are less likely to ensure that their own daughters finish school.
According to the report, “girls forced into early marriage are more likely to experience poverty, violence and early pregnancy, putting their lives and health at risk.”
The report found that more than 1.2 million girls from preschool to upper secondary education in East Asia and the Pacific could drop out of school as a result of the pandemic, adding to the already 15 million girls who were not enrolled in school before the coronavirus.
One in five (or 40 million) girls in East Asia and the Pacific were unable to continue studying through distance learning.
The girls spoken to for the report “overwhelmingly” wanted to stay in school, Legena said. “Girls know value better than anyone.”
But nearly half of the 1,200 girls between the ages of 15 and 24 surveyed by Plan International in a report He said they were concerned about his chances of going back to school.
When they are allowed to stay in school, their families usually get an education too, Legena said, and parents often learn that their daughters are capable of much more than they knew.
The pandemic has also had a marked effect on girls’ mental health, with three out of five girls in the Pacific saying they were “sometimes, quite often or always, anxious or stressed because of Covid-19.” Four out of five said the pandemic had made them feel lonely.
Schools can be protective environments outside the home, with teachers serving as role models, nutrition programs that provide a higher level of food security, and the peer company that also offers “informal education,” Legena said.
“We cannot afford to lose a generation of girls to the pandemic,” she said.
According to the World Bank, prior to the pandemic, 5 million people in Southeast Asia and the Pacific were expected to fall below the poverty line in 2020. The pandemic is expected to add 33 million people to that number, marking the first increase in widespread poverty in the region in two decades.
In India, child marriage has increased not only because of the economic impact of the pandemic on family income, but also because social distancing restrictions have made smaller and less expensive weddings more acceptable, according to the report.
The findings are based on online surveys and interviews with 450 adolescents aged 15-19 in 10 countries, including Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, and Fiji, as well as workshops with girls in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Kiribati.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism