As COVID-19 tears through communities across the globe, children have become the hidden victims of the pandemic. School closures and other lockdown measures adopted to stem the spread of the virus have cut off millions of children from quality learning, critical vaccines, and nutritious diets.
For girls, disruptions also come at the cost of their safety.
The risk of gender-based violence and harmful practices soars during an emergency – especially for girls living under restricted movement and socioeconomic decline. Many girls kept from school today will never return, their childhood stolen by child marriage or pregnancy.
These are the stories of young girls living through COVID-19 – coping with the fears of child marriage, the struggles of distance learning, and the burden of isolation.
They are also the stories of a world reimagined. Armed only with mobile phones, 16 girls from nine countries film their hardships, fears and hopes for a fair world.
Episode 1: A pandemic through a girl's eyes
As their schools close and their families struggle to stay afloat, girls in nine countries grapple with social isolation and the threat of poverty and child marriage.
“Many parents don’t have a job or money for school fees, so they have started planning to send their children to work,” says Sangamithra, 15, in India. “In [the] case of girls, they may plan to marry them off at an early age.”
Episode 2: Education through a girl’s eyes
Nationwide lockdowns in 194 countries left 1.6 billion children – approximately 90 per cent of the world's students – out of school by early April. Many girls risk never returning to the classroom, as families turn to child marriage or child labour to ease their economic burdens.
“The idea of not sending girls to school, especially in the area where I live, has really become a part of culture,” says Antsa, 16, in Madagascar.
Episode 3: Relationships through a girl’s eyes
Previous health emergencies have shown that girls face a heightened risk of early marriage and pregnancy, especially as they lose access to school, social networks, and critical reproductive health services.
“I want a social system where women and children are completely safe,” says Trisha, 15, in Bangladesh. “Child marriage is a curse for our society. When a girl is a victim of child marriage, she is affected physically and emotionally.”
Episode 4: Inequality through a girl’s eyes
As COVID-19 spreads, girls speak up for their right to live free from female genital mutilation, and to access equal opportunities for protection and well-being.
“Even if a cure has been found, will countries like ours be given access?” asks Esta, 15, in Niger.
Episode 5: The future through a girl’s eyes
Girls across the world reimagine a future that’s inclusive and fair.
“I ask the parents who are watching to protect and take care of their children, to understand that we have something to say, that our thoughts matter, because we are the future,” says Makadidia, 15, in Mali.
All video footage was shot by the girls themselves and captures their own words, ideas and beliefs.
COVID-19 threatens the lives and futures of the world’s most vulnerable children. This is a global emergency, and it will not be over until we contain it everywhere.
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