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Girlhood, interrupted

21 October 2020, Impact of Our Work, Voices from the Field, Action for Change, Research and Reports

COVID-19 putting girls at risk of child marriage

In 2012, the inaugural International Day of the Girl focused on ending child marriage. But eight years on, as the impact of COVID-19 hits families in poorer nations, child marriage is again on the rise. New analysis from Save the Children reveals a further 2.5 million girls around the world are at risk of early marriage by 2025 because of the pandemic – the greatest surge in child marriage rates in 25 years.

The economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis have meant a dramatic rise in girls dropping out of school, and an alarming increase in children being driven into poverty. Unfortunately, as family income decreases, many parents in developing countries are forced to make tough life or death decisions. A daughter married off means one less person to feed, clothe and educate.

These marriages violate girls’ rights and leave them at increased risk of depression, lifelong violence, disabilities, and even death—including from childbirth, given their bodies simply aren’t ready to bear children. In many countries while marriage isn’t legal under the age of 18, parents are forced to marry off their daughters as young as 12.
 

Subira’s story

Subira* was just 15. She had completed primary school and had started learning tailoring at a local centre supported by Save the Children. She dreamt of being a famous fashion designer. 

“Days passed by and my skills were fast improving,” she recounts. “I put extra efforts on learning and planned to buy my own tailoring machine so that as soon as I complete the course I can open a small tailoring shop at the small centre near my village.”
 
"One day when I was coming back from the centre, I was shocked to find out that my father wanted to marry me off for a dowry of three million Tanzania shillings (AUD$1800) promised to one wealthy man from a neighboring village. My father gave me a picture and said to me ‘my daughter, you are very lucky this man is going to be your husband soon, so be happy now."

Subira

Her father told her the man was 25 – she later found out he was 45, three times her age. Luckily Subira acted quickly. The next day she spoke to her teacher at the tailoring centre. The Save the Children supported staff went to Subira’s house, spoke to her parents and notified the local police.
 


Subira is slowly but surely growing her tailoring business as she narrowly escaped a forced marriage.
Photo: Secilia Bosco/Save the Children

How Subira was saved

Subira’s mother, herself married off at 13, understood the risk and ramifications of the marriage and quickly called it off. “In the end I decided that my daughters interest comes first. When Save the Children came to talk to me about the importance of not marrying off my young child, I understood very well and told my husband that Subira is not going to be married, he had no choice but to call off the marriage and he disappeared. Honestly I never wanted my husband to run away but I had no choice.”
 
It hasn’t been easy for Maria* to raise Subira and her four siblings alone, but Subira’s fashion skills are making a real difference. 

“I was so happy the day she managed to buy her first tailoring machine,” says Maria. “I went with her to the shops and we carried it on our heads back home. Now she is making even more money through it and I have also started a fruit selling business at the market. Her father occasionally sends food and some money to support us. I believe one day he will come back home.”
 
The economic impact of COVID-19 has hit Subira’s family hard. It’s set her back in progressing her tailoring skills, as the centre shut down, and inhibited the growth of her fledgling business. But however hard they have been hit economically, Maria knows marriage isn’t the answer to their worries. “As a parent, I am against child marriage. It destroys girls’ futures and puts them through so much pain and responsibilities at a very young age. Let’s put our children’s dignity first and prioritise their success and achievement.”

It’s something Subira wholeheartedly supports. “My message to other girls is that whenever there are facing challenges they should not stay silent. They should air their voices through a trusted adult. And for those who are educated they should share their knowledge with other girls. For any girl who will hear me or read my story, I urge you lets unite in the fight to end child marriage.”

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