The economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak on public life is visible. Various government and private organisations have come forward to help the people who lost their jobs suddenly or have no means of earning, but the assistance has not been adequate. The overall impact on the social sphere is being overlooked. Child marriage and child abuse are matters of grave concern at the moment.

According to a survey by the voluntary organisation, Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), child abuse and child marriage in June was higher than in April and May. In June, 462 girls were subjected to child marriage and 207 such marriages were prevented. The number of child marriages in May was 170 and 233 were prevented.

It is also unfortunate that there is no specific allocation in the current financial year for the social security for girls and adolescent girls. If the government really wants to achieve the goal, it is necessary to allocate the necessary funds for this, even if it has to come by reducing the allocation of other unnecessary and ambitious projects.

The number of child marriages has increased by 292 in one month. On the other hand, 2,896 children have been subjected to various forms of abuse in June whereas the number was 2,171 in May. MJF has been collecting information over telephone since April to find out how women and children are doing during the pandemic.

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Why has child marriage increased during pandemic? According to BRAC's research, 87 per cent of child marriages take places as the parents are worried about the girls' future while 71 per cent of child marriages occur due to closure of schools. And in 62 percent of the cases, parents are giving their daughters in marriage when they find grooms with good jobs overseas.

Child marriage is a crime and can have no justification. The young boys or girls who are being married off are not the criminals. The culprits are the guardians and the registrars who arrange the marriage. Parents often want to get rid of the burden by marrying off their daughter at a young age. They are often unaware of the fact that they actually put the girls’ lives in greater danger through such marriages. Neighbours, local people's representatives and the administration should take more proactive steps to stop this.

But the local people's representatives and the administration cannot pay attention to child marriage as they are busy dealing with and distributing relief materials during the pandemic. This is a lame excuse. They must pay attention to this serious social problem. The administration cannot the avoid liability by saying "we were not informed".

The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs has projects to prevent violence against women and is expected to play an active role in this matter. They do not always get accurate information from the local administration. Therefore, effective steps are needed to take into account the data of non-governmental organisations including BRAC, Manusher Jonno Foundation and Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK). We cannot fall back from the success we achieved so far in preventing child marriage and child abuse.

The government made a commitment to reduce child marriage to zero by 2030. Now is the time to wake up as there is not much time. The administration and local people's representatives have to work with this vow of “We will not allow a single child marriage.”

It is also unfortunate that there is no specific allocation in the current financial year for the social security for girls and adolescent girls. If the government really wants to achieve the goal, it is necessary to allocate the necessary funds for this, even if it has to come by reducing the allocation of other unnecessary and ambitious projects.

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