The coronavirus pandemic is reversing progress on ending child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM), jeopardising the futures of millions of girls, a senior UN official said yesterday.
"The pandemic both makes our job harder and more urgent as so many more girls are now at risk," said Natalia Kanem, head of the United Nations' sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA.
An additional 13 million girls could be married off and two million more could undergo FGM in the next decade, beyond what would have been expected, as COVID-19 disrupts global efforts to end both practices, UNFPA said.
Deepening poverty caused by the crisis may also push more parents to get daughters married early.
Kanem spoke as UNFPA launched a major report on the "silent and endemic crisis" of harmful practices, ranging from breast ironing to virginity testing.
"When so many girls and women are unwanted, cut, erased, given, traded and sold, our common future is undermined. We should all be outraged," she told a news conference.
More than 140 million females are "missing" in the world today, mostly in China and India, due to pre-natal sex selection or parents neglecting baby girls so badly that they die, UNFPA said.
Some 33,000 girls are forced into early marriage every day, the report added, and an estimated 4.1 million are at risk of FGM this year.