COVID-19 Implications: Why Ghana should anticipate increased teenage pregnancies and child marriages

Caught unprepared, many countries continue to fight relentlessly in a bid to save their citizens from the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact including crisis response and public measures focused mainly on curbing the spread of the virus.

While experts have projected more job losses in the face of already plummeting job markets, many of these jobs loses have led to economic hardships with more expected downturns in the few months to come.

The crisis response measures being implemented in most countries around the world which includes, lockdowns, mandatory quarantine and closure of schools, even though, good enough to prevent the spread of the virus has daunting impacts on children and adolescents.

As a clear view of the toll of the Covid-19 pandemic is only beginning to take shape,

Experts have estimated that the human cost of the toll on the pandemic which is currently taking shape, could be extraordinary while the economic and physical disruptions caused by the disease could have vast consequences for the rights and health of women and girls.

Increased Teenage Pregnancies

Though a widely accepted preventive measure from the virus was to stay home, the home, after all, may not be the safest place for everyone.

With anticipated implications of COVID-19 translating to teenage pregnancies, early marriages, domestic abuse and school dropouts; the home has become fertile ground for gender-based vices of all forms to be perpetrated against victims especially girls.

The closure of schools has been placed in an uncomfortable juxtaposition with economic hardship on low-income earners and folks found in rural communities. The situation has increased domestic household burdens on families, and in effect, most adolescents are expected to contribute their quota in the provision of necessities such as food and water.

Most of these adolescents are pushed into selling various items for their family members in Ghana, a situation which in many cases has exposed them to sexual predators.

When the Ebola outbreak raged through Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea in the summer of 2014, teenage pregnancy spiked as incidents of coercion and sexual assault soared.

A study by the United Nations Development Programme found that in Sierra Leone, teenage pregnancy increased by 65 per cent due to the socio-economic conditions imposed by Ebola.

The school environment has for many years served as a secure place for many school children, who are disadvantaged to access food from friends and teachers, sanitary pads and also a listening ear for issues and challenges they may face. As school closes now, these children may have to seek such comfort at home and from their parents who mostly regard such needs as burdens.

Furthermore, these children are exposed to some perpetrators of sexual violence are found to be close family members and relatives.

These factors should not be ignored but regarded as a huge concern which could lead to increased cases of teenage pregnancies in Ghana after the COVID-19 pandemic is finally over.

Increased Child Marriages.

One of the major reasons why most children are given away in marriages is poverty.

Financial experts have projected a looming food crisis, which meant that many parents would be forced to give out their children for marriages in order to survive.

Some of these girls who could fall victim are expected to be between the ages of 9 and 17.

 Increased in School Dropouts.

We can all attest to the fact that not all victims of teenage pregnancy would be able to go back to school, hence a huge number of them would end up dropouts.

Furthermore, some of these adolescents who are engaged in all forms of menial jobs to fend for their families and also to survive may not return to school. Some of them would rather develop an interest in money-making ventures than going back to school to struggle for the future.

Some parents who may also be benefiting from the school close down and are benefiting economically from their children may not encourage them to return to the classrooms.

The upsurge in child labour

A forthcoming literature review by the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) showed that when household incomes decrease, child labour tends to increase. One example from Côte d’Ivoire showed that a 10% fall in income, due to a drop in cocoa price, led to a 5-percentage point increase in child labour.

During the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, child labour increased as children were required to supplement family incomes, with children expected to work more due to school closures.

Illness or death of a family member as a result of epidemics required some children to take over the role of the main breadwinner. An International Labour Organization research has found a close link between child labour and the loss of a parent, with one study showing that orphans of HIV/AIDS are twice as likely to work as other children.

Children interviewed in Sierra Leone reported of increased participation in work during the Ebola crisis, including incidences of hazardous work and transactional sex.

Mitigated actions.

The choices that governments make now are crucial for children. Governments can both lessen the worst effects of the crisis on children in the months to come, and also put policies in place that would improve children’s lives long after the pandemic is over.

Make the increased care burden visible, introduce programs to alleviate the load, and organise campaigns to call household members in sharing care duties at home.

There is the need for a comprehensive government-led emergency response that builds on existing coordination structures, to ensure that government, civil society, and industry actors work effectively in partnership.

Proactive engagement with communities to effectively share information on preventive measures and also to promote trust in authorities.

Governments must integrate child protection as a central part of the response including specific efforts to ensure access to education and avoid increases in harmful child labour.

It must also facilitate the provision of direct support to households to weather the economic consequences of the virus, in meeting immediate food needs, and reducing the use of negative coping strategies.

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