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By Emeline Wuilbercq
(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – More than 500 girls have been rescued from child marriage in northern Ethiopia since schools were shut due to the new coronavirus, a regional official said, as fears mount that the pandemic is reversing years of work to stop underage unions.
Ethiopia closed its schools in mid-March, sending 26 million children home, where girls face a greater risk of being illegally forced into marriage under the age of 18, which some human rights activists regard as a form of slavery.
“The number is rising,” said Asnaku Deres, head of the bureau of women, children, and youth affairs in the northern region of Amhara, adding that local authorities have stopped 540 child marriages in the last two months.
“We received the tips before the wedding preparation is undertaken and were able to intervene and stop it from happening … Had not the tips come to us, these girls would have been married off,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The U.N. predicts there could be an extra 13 million child marriages by 2030 as COVID-19 hits household incomes and stymies global efforts to end the practice.
Ethiopia is home to 15 million child brides with one of the world’s highest rates of early marriage, according to the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, but it has been making strong progress towards its goal of ending the illegal practice by 2025.