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COVID-19: Increasing child marriages and a threat to child mental health

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is causing disruption to the lives of billions of people, with governments worldwide implementing lockdowns and social distancing strategies in an attempt to curb the number of cases and deaths.

UNICEF, Girls Not Brides and other child health organisations are extremely concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on children, including in the context of child, early and forced marriage.(1,2) UNFPA projects that the effect of COVID-19 will be an additional 13 million child marriages taking place between 2020 and 2030, which could have otherwise been prevented.(3)

Rising numbers of child marriages has a huge implication for the mental health of children. Child marriage is already associated with negative mental health consequences, including depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts and attempts.(4,5,6)

Lockdown measures such as childcare and school closures will severely disrupt children’s lives and reduce their support networks, which has repercussions for children’s mental health.(7) Similarly, increased household and caring responsibilities for girls, and barriers to reporting forced marriage incidents, increase the risk of forced marriages and sexual exploitation of children.(7)

A similar outcome was seen following the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014-16. School closures contributed to increases in child sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy and child labour, all of which have impacts on child mental health.(1)

While it is too soon to be able to understand the full consequences of COVID-19, the economic impacts and government efforts to contain the virus threaten to increase rates of child marriage well into the future.

It is essential that organisations and governments bare these impacts in mind when addressing COVID-19 and take the necessary steps to address the mental health effects of COVID-19 on children.


1. UNICEF (2020). COVID-19: Children at heightened risk of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence amidst intensifying containment measures.

2. Girls Not Brides (2020). COVID-19 and child, early and forced marriage: an agenda for action.

3. UNFPA (2020). Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Family Planning and Ending Gender-based Violence, Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage. Interim Technical Note.

4. Tenkorang, E. Y. 2019. 'Explaining the links between child marriage and intimate partner violence: Evidence from Ghana', Child Abuse Negl, 89: 48-57.

5. Nasrullah, M., R. Zakar, and M. Z. Zakar. 2014. 'Child marriage and its associations with controlling behaviors and spousal violence against adolescent and young women in Pakistan', J Adolesc Health, 55: 804-9.

6. Le Strat, Y., C. Dubertret, and B. Le Foll. 2011. 'Child marriage in the United States and its association with mental health in women', Pediatrics, 128: 524-30.

The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (2020). Technical Note: Protection of Children during the Coronavirus Pandemic, Version 1.

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