Data from UNICEF shows that every year about 1.5 million Indian girls under the age of 18 get married Credit: Representational image

School education has been adverse impacted through the academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the worse among those affected are girl, as statistics suggest that even after the end of the health crisis, about 20 million girls will not be able to return to their schools in several low and medium-income countries. And India is also among these countries.

Centre for Budget and Policy Studies (CBPS) in alliance with Malala Fund conducted a study in this regard in districts of Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Delhi. Kokrajhar-based NEDAN Foundation’s Dr Diganbar Narzary, member of Champions for Girls’ Education was also part of the study.

The study shows that after the lockdown, education through digital medium became a necessity, however, only 47% families have the facility of phones, and this number falls to 31% when we count families having smartphones. Moreover, most girls are not getting it for their studies.

A release from NEDAN foundation explained that in situations where only one person of the family has the mobile phone and internet access facility, both boys and girls are studying in the family, priority is given to study of the boy child over the girl child. “Hence this academic session appears to be a total waste for girls.”

While India is running various campaigns related to women empowerment, about 40% of girls of age group 15-18 years are still out of school.

In comparison with boys, almost double the number of girls have not been able to pursue school education even for the first four years. These figures from UNESCO may become more horrible after the pandemic.

Underage Marriage

During or after the pandemic, there is a higher possibility of teenage girls getting married, and it will lead to discontinuation of their schooling.

Data from UNICEF shows that every year about 1.5 million Indian girls under the age of 18 get married. Marriage not only puts a full stop to their education but it also carries dangers like becoming a mother at a young age.

A strange trend is noticed in this regard. The rate of marriage of girls below 18 years had dropped by about 20% in the years of 2005-2006, but again saw a rise in 2015-2016. It is now assumed that after this pandemic, the graph may show a big jump which is a serious matter of concern.

United Nations population fund has predicted that in the next decade, over 13 million girls will be married underage. Here it is noticeable that this data is apart from the early girls’ marriage data of pre-corona time.

Also Read: Bonded by prejudice: Child brides of Assam

Domestic Violence

The lockdown forced families to stay inside four-walls, while it became a season of merriment for many, the restrictions lead to rise in domestic violence. CHILDLINE India reported that within first two weeks of lockdown, there was a 50% increase in complaint calls from children compared to what they usually receive. Most of these calls were from girls facing various types of violence during the lockdown period.

In such scenarios, economically weaker sections are on the verge of dropping out from their schools. This is why several organizations are working towards girls’ education through #BackTo School campaign. Special care for secondary education is advised so that things will not become worse.

Is history repeating itself?

Ebola outbreak in African countries in 2014 had similar impact on children’s education. Dropout rates of girls was much higher compared to boys. Also, consequences like early marriages and teenage pregnancy emerge. The Coronavirus pandemic paints similar scary picture for developing countries of the world.

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