At least 22,000 child brides die each year as a result of pregnancy. – Shocking and very serious, says Save the Children, who is behind the report.
– The report tells us that girls’ right to survive, learn and have a safe childhood is really under pressure, says director of politics and communication at Save the Children in Norway, Gunvor Knag Fylkesnes to VG.
She is despairing about how the numbers of child marriages are rising for the first time in over 20 years. For a long time, there were fewer and fewer underage girls who were married off, and thus fewer underage girls who became pregnant and fewer of those who died during pregnancy or childbirth.
Then came the coronavirus.
Save the Children estimates that the pandemic alone could have led to one million more pregnancies among minors by 2020. In total, UNICEF believes that 10 million more girls could end up as child brides by 2030 as a result of the virus that has ravaged the world for almost two years.
Some prime minister Erna Solberg talked about in her speech to the UN General Assembly last year.
Save the Children’s figures thus show that at least 22,000 child brides die annually – or 60 every single day all year round – as a result of pregnancy. And that says they are a cautious estimate.
– The figures are shocking and serious, says Knag Fylkesnes.
12-year-old married 54-year-old
There are various, and to some extent complicated, causal relationships that lead to very young girls getting married, but one clearly mentions poverty. And many more have been thrown into poverty because of the pandemic.
– Many families in, for example, West and Central Africa have been thrown into poverty, and feel compelled to marry off their girls. The fact that schools have been closed to many young girls also increases the chances that they will be married off, according to the Save the Children director.
Almost half of the girls who die as a result do so in these areas.
Also read: My life as a child bride
Even in countries where child marriage is illegal, it is not uncommon for it to happen. In a press release in connection with the launch of the report, which deals with the conditions for girls around the world – and their rights, Save the Children has attached a quote from a now 23-year-old woman in Burkina Faso, who was forcibly married as a 12-year-old:
– My husband was 54 years old, and already had four wives. I wanted to go to school, so I decided to run away. I was taken and brought back to stay with him. That’s why I fled again, she says.
The second attempt was successful and eventually she ended up in a support center for bridesmaids. Now she is training to become a nurse.
In that job, she may be able to teach young girls about their reproductive, health rights, contraception and what is legal and not.
– We see that during the pandemic, programs that provide information about such, as well as provide access to contraception and health care, have been shut down in many places, says Knag Fylkesnes.
Girls who are married off at a young age are at greater risk of becoming pregnant. You are considered a child bride as long as you are under 18 years old, but some can be as young as as young as 12 years old.
– The bodies of such young girls are not fully developed. The bodies do not tolerate pregnancy. They are not ready to carry a child, Knag Fylkesnes explains.
Read the VG interview: Arifur’s mother became pregnant when she was 12 years old
According to Save the Children, childbirth is the most common cause of teenage girls dying. The situation is not made easier by the fact that many of those who end up as child brides live in the countryside without access to good maternity care, or without being able to afford such help. Far fewer would have lost their lives if they had received the necessary help.
In connection with the report, which will be launched on World International Girls’ Day, Save the Children has compiled a list of five points of encouragement to the government around the world:
- Give girls a voice.
- Addresses the risk of gender-based violence, including child marriage.
- Guarantees rights to all girls.
- Ensure safe and unlimited participation of women in all humanitarian work.
- Become a part of «Generation Equality»Movement, which works for equality.
– The world has so far made a plan to prevent and deter this, but when we see the increase in gender-based violence that has been during the pandemic, it is clear that more funding and prioritization is needed. More effort is simply needed, and it is important that decision-makers and government officials now feel the seriousness, says Gunvor Knag Fylkesnes.
– Very worried
She hopes that our incoming government will do so, and sends the following invitation to Jonas Gahr Støre and Trygve Slagsvold Vedum:
– Put gender equality and girls’ rights at the center of foreign policy. In international forums and in conversations with countries that have this challenge, it is especially important to use the position Norway has. In addition, we have the opportunity to be an important contributor financially, and we have an important voice when it comes to girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights.
According to Knag Fylkesnes, only 11 per cent of the funding needed for humanitarian response to prevent gender-based violence has been granted.
– It is very small, and some say it is about how big the need is. We are very worried now. It is very serious to see the decline that has been, she concludes.