Hyderabad: The United Nations Population Front released its annual State of World Population report on June 30, 2020, with a prediction that the world, in the next 10 years will see almost 13.7 million more child marriages than the average. It concluded that the pandemic-related disruptions in the battle for subverting gender-based injustice would be of great cost.
UNFPA’s prediction can be corroborated by the fact that Telangana itself saw an increase in child marriages in the last three months. The Telangana State Commission for Protection of Child Rights reported that 204 child marriages took place from March 24 to May 31, when the lockdown was imposed across the nation.
The UNFPA reports that 650 million women who are alive today were married as children. Even with the practice being illegal, it takes place 33,000 times a day, all across the globe. It states that these transactional marriages are more common among the poorer sections, and are exacerbated in times of crisis. “The absence of protective, welfare and supportive measures from the state for those in dire poverty and unemployment during the pandemic make people think child marriage as a way out of trouble,” comments Deepa Srinivas, Professor at the Centre for Women’s Studies, University of Hyderabad.
An analysis of child marriage data included in the World Bank’s World Development Indicators shows that among girls married by age 18 in India, 46 percent were in the lowest income bracket. “What Virginia Woolf calls a Room of One’s Own, never really belonged to the women. The increased presence of males in the household, the 8-hour-a-day absence which was once a respite is not there these days, and domestic violence in forms of female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage or just mere subjugation has increased,” Srinivas adds.
The UNFPA report also brings out grave gender injustice trends prevalent in India, including having the highest rate of excess female deaths (13.5 per 1,000 female births). It also stated that along with China, India contributes to the highest number of missing female births (90 per cent) due to gender-biased prenatal sex selection.