The world under lockdown, businesses shut, global economy crushed, people lost jobs, no food & least access to medical support, increased mental illness! These are just few side effects of coronavirus that we largely speak about. But then there is another side to this story many of us won’t be even aware of let alone think about it. It’s the impact of coronavirus on women & young girls. From unwanted pregnancies, increasing missing females, increasing child marriages, drop outs, to more children forced into work, the impact of coronavirus is really deadly on the social side, putting humanity to shame.
The Foundation of Reproductive Health Services India stated on the occasion of World Population Day that due to lack of access to contraceptives, India will see an additional 1.94 million unintended pregnancies, 1.18 million abortions and 1,425 maternal deaths. While the UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, stated that an estimated 4.1 million girls will be subjected to female genital mutilation, 33,000 girls under the age of 18 will be forced into marriages in a day, usually to much older men, and 140 million missing females will be reported due to extreme preference for sons over daughters in some countries. Another international children’s charity, World Vision, warned that COVID-19 could put an additional four million girls at risk of early and enforced marriage, while a report by UN predicted an extra 13 million child marriages over the next decade.
How will the pandemic cause such surges? The deepening poverty caused by the loss of livelihood continues to add financial burdens onto families. Especially the daily wage earners are left with no source of income and hence are forced to pull their girl child out of school and marry them off much before they reach the age of marriage. This means more drop outs, more early pregnancies leading to an increasing number of maternal deaths as these girls are too young and malnutritioned to bear a child.
International Labor Organization stated that the economic crisis caused by coronavirus could result in more than 25 million job losses, many of which will be low-paid, part-time jobs, of which women have a large share. Women will also be forced to quit their jobs to look after children and elderly. What will this result in? With few hands contributing to financial gains, kids will be forced into labour when and where possible as they will be willing to work even at much lower pay scale. But shortage of labour could also result in an increasing human trafficking including children.
About 89 percent of the NGOs surveyed for a study by Kailash Satyarthi Children Foundation said that trafficking of both adults and children for labour will be one of the biggest threats in the post-lockdown period. This will result due to the depleting household income of the most vulnerable. The report also mentioned that around 76 percent of the NGOs anticipate human trafficking for the purpose of sexual abuse and child trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation to see an upsurge post the lockdown.
So What Needs to be Done?
In the month of June, the Centre said that it has received as many as 5,584 phone calls to prevent child marriage during the COVID-19 induced lockdown out of which nearly 35 percent were related to child marriage which were categories under child protection concerns, while at least 92,203 interventions were made by CHILDLINE to protect children in distress during the lockdown period. The CHILDLINE data reflects another story as well. Some of the most educated states of the country like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal, Andhara Pradesh and Telangana were the top five states to have reported the cases. Karnataka alone accounted for around 29 percent of interventions for child marriage.
If you think that apprising the lower strata or the most vulnerable ones are the only solution, it isn’t alone. Why? Because they are already aware of the demerits but afraid to go against their culture/tradition. While not all of these cases are induced due to fear, the loss of job, and deeply integrating poverty is playing the major culprit now. Though organizations like CHILDLINE and NGOs like Kailash Satyarthi Children Foundation are equally essential, we need to find ways to see how we as individuals can contribute towards curbing the menace of the so deadly COVID-19. Let HUMANITY win!!!