A new Unicef report released on Monday suggests millions more underage girls are at risk of being forced into marriage around the world due to the coronavirus pandemic.

By Eva Ontiveros

“My family told me I shouldn’t say no to such an offer, as the boy who wanted to marry me was from a wealthy family,” 14-year-old Abeba told the BBC.

Only a few months ago, she was under a lot of pressure from her mother and siblings to accept a suitor, marry and help ease the family’s financial strains during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Abeba: “My family kept pushing me to get married” GETTY IMAGES

Abeba wants to become a doctor, but in her hometown in South Gondar, in Ethiopia, her future education is uncertain.

Rabi, 16, is still attending secondary school in Gusau, Nigeria, but four of her close friends have been married off during the pandemic, and her mother believes she should follow suit.

“Two of our neighbors will marry this week, Insha’Allah. I just never knew my turn would come so soon,” Rabi said.

Many Fulani girls in Nigeria did not return to school after lockdown – and many had been married off in the meantime GETTY IMAGES

And these prospects of an underage marriage are far from unusual. Over the next decade, 10 million more girls have been put at risk of becoming child brides as a result of Covid, a new Unicef report shows.

According to Unicef estimates, even before the pandemic struck it was predicted that 100 million children would have been forced into marriage in the next 10 years. But now that figure is even higher, with a projected 10% increase.

Global school closures, the economic downturn and the interruption of support services for families and children have made girls more likely to become wives before legal adulthood by 2030, the report says.

“These figures tell us that the world is becoming a tougher place for girls,” Nankali Maksud, senior advisor for Prevention of Harmful Practices at Unicef, told the BBC.

School is often the safest place for underage girls UNICEF

Abeba said that she managed to get out of her arranged marriage because she won her father over. “My mother and brothers, they kept pushing me to get married. They finally relented when my family got counselling and officials persuaded them to change their minds.”

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