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Coronavirus and the fight to end child marriage

The future for girls: coronavirus and the fight to end child marriage

In Mozambique, the pandemic could force more girls out of education and into early marriage

“Some of the people in my community are advising young girls to marry because they believe school will not open again this year and we will add extra costs to our families by remaining at home,” says Maria*, 14, in Mozambique.

She was married when she was just 12 years old – but with support from Plan International, she was able to leave her marriage and get back into education before the coronavirus crisis hit.

Photo of a girl reading a book
In Mozambique, Maria* reads through one of her school books.

The impact of the pandemic means that, around the world, girls are facing even greater risk of unintended teen pregnancy, female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage.

Over the next 10 years, it’s expected that 13 million more cases of child marriage could take place around the world as a result. We also know that pregnant girls and young mothers face even greater risks in crisis situations, including the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I was very happy to go back to school this year. When I was married, I did not dare to imagine that one day I could be a student again,” Maria says.

“But not everyone has been supportive of me getting divorced and enrolling in school because some people in my community still believe girls are only meant to be wives and mothers.”

‘I knew that I could not go back’

Mozambique has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with almost half of girls marrying before the age of 18 and one in 10 before their 15th birthday.

In 2019, Mozambique approved a law against early marriage to protect girls.  However, recent reports show many girls previously rescued from abusive marriages have been forced to return to their husbands due to the added financial pressures that have come with the coronavirus pandemic – and with millions of girls now at home because of school closures, there are fears that the number of child marriages across the country will surge.

“Because of the coronavirus, many families in the community will not be able to afford to send their children back to school,” Maria says.

For Elsa*, 17, lockdown left her confined at home with her violent husband and his family, in fear for her safety and the safety of her baby son. So she made the decision to escape.

“I was married at the age of 15,” she explains. “My ex-husband promised that if I married him, he would send my mother money every month. I had to stop going to school because his family made me do all the domestic work. If I did something wrong, they would hit me and call me bad names. My mother eventually passed away without ever receiving a payment.

“My ex-husband’s family asked me to return after the state of emergency was declared but I knew that I could not go back.” 

*Names have been changed to protect identities

Photo of a girl in a white and blue top smiling
"Most of my friends have dropped out of school. Some of them because they became pregnant and got married, others because their parents are poor and they need to help out." – Sofia, 15, Mozambique

Working with communities to end child marriage

Before the coronavirus outbreak, we were working to end child marriage in Mozambique through programmes with a specific focus on education, sexual and reproductive health and rights and economic empowerment. For Sofia, that meant being able to attend the boarding school we built, so girls who live in rural areas can continue their education. "I want to marry when I'm 30 years old,” she says. “My dream is to become a doctor.”

As the coronavirus crisis continues, we remain committed to enforcing the law on existing cases of child marriage and preventing more girls from being married early. We’ve also developed guidance on how to report cases, which will be shared nationwide with girls and their families using community radios.

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