The economic impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic could fuel a rise in child marriage and cohabitation in developing nations, researchers warned on Friday.
Researchers led by Britain’s Oxford University interviewed 345 adolescents in India, Ethiopia, Peru and Zambia for the long-term Young Marriage and Parenthood study.
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National and UN-led international programmes have reduced the number of children, particularly girls, marrying under 18 years old, they found.
“However, the global coronavirus pandemic could mean that these gains are under threat,” the researchers said.
“Past experiences of crises and pandemics, including Ebola, have found that, particularly among the poorest groups, child marriage increases as parents struggle to feed their children and want to protect their daughters,” they said.
“There is a real risk that the pandemic will exacerbate inequalities within their intimate relationships and family lives and create further social and economic divisions among this generation of youth,” Gina Crivello, a senior researcher for Oxford’s Young Lives project, wrote in a blog on the study.
The three-year study found that both parents and children believed “life expectations and gender equality have improved for this generation.”
But many of the youngsters interviewed said they had “not wanted to get married and felt they had been too young,” the report said.
Co-author Gillian Mann of Child Frontiers, a child protection consultancy, said the research suggested the lives of the young interviewees had “changed very little from those of their parents, and continue to be marked by power imbalances and lack of opportunity.”