Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF has estimated that an additional 10 million girls are at risk of early marriages. In particular, the closure of schools and colleges along with social and economic shocks have aggravated the risk of early marriages for women. This comes at a time when educational aspirations and job prospects are extremely uncertain, and household responsibilities are increasing.
Anju Rani is a final year student pursuing a master’s in social work (MSW) from a university in Sonipat, Haryana. She shares, “The classes happen online, and I tend to do household chores alongside as it is a standard expectation from girls at home. I barely get to concentrate during online classes. I am definitely worried about job prospects as we haven’t been able to finish the minimum required fieldwork for an MSW degree. How does one do fieldwork online?”
She adds, “In our communities, girls barely get the opportunity to pursue higher education. The conversations about marriage—which were pushed away because I was studying—have picked up pace since I have been home for almost two years now. Unmarried girls are a liability for families in our cultures.”
Just like we have prioritised vaccinations for students going abroad to study, we must focus on vaccinating students in higher education as a priority group—especially those from smaller cities and rural areas. By doing this, universities will be able to resume in-person classes and allow young women to continue their education.
Achalika Ahuja works with Indus Action, a policy implementation organisation that works to bridge the gap between law and action.
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