COVID-19, and the measures taken by governments worldwide to prevent its further spread, have a major impact on the lives of the girls and their families we work for. Now schools have been closed almost everywhere and meetings and travel are forbidden, can we still carry out our programme and are we still able to work towards our goal using our six programme strategies? What about the sixth strategy during lockdown: creating an enabling legal and policy environment?
In the communities where Her Choice operates, girls and women are already in a vulnerable position, but now, in addition to the health risk of COVID-19, they are at great risk of becoming victims of poverty, which is rapidly worsening as a result of the crisis, and increasing domestic violence. Therefore, all ten Her Choice countries have developed an adapted plan for the Her Choice programme. These plans are based upon the recommendations from Girls Not Brides. In the adapted plan, Her Choice will focus on activities that strengthen the safety and well-being of our target group, while continuing to use the six programme strategies. This approach enables Her Choice to continue to contribute to the programme results.
Regarding strategy 6 (creating an enabling legal and policy environment) local partners work closely with government officials to make sure the most vulnerable girls continue to be reached and to keep health, education, SRHR and gender on the agenda. Local partners connect distressed people to the government’s social safety-net schemes and other support systems. And of course, all Her Choice partners share and exchange their experiences regarding COVID-19 response with partners and the international community.
Badiul Majumdar, director of The Hunger Project Bangladesh, together with other influential Bangladeshi people, puts pressure on the government. In an opinion piece in the best-read newspaper, he writes about the possible impact of the virus on Bangladesh and calls on the government to quickly take firm measures to slow down the spread of the virus and to protect the economy as much as possible: ‘Bangladesh is under greater risk. The reasons include our high population density, the return of our expatriate workers from countries where the virus has already spread, our relatively poor health infrastructure, limited supply of diagnostic kits and protective gear for health professionals, and widespread lack of awareness about the virus and how it is spread.’
In July, Her Choice participated in a UN event about child marriage laws. Participants were The More Than Brides Alliance in collaboration with Girls Not Brides (GNB); the Global Partnership to End Child Marriage, Her Choice Alliance (HCA), and Partners for Law in Development (PLD). The virtual side-event took place during the United Nations 2020 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).
Bringing together a global panel of program and research experts, the overall objective for this event was to raise the issue of unintended consequences of the enforcement of child marriage laws in the context of COVID-19. Now more than ever, ending child marriage needs to be on the global agenda. As COVID-19 limits on-the-ground programmatic activities, changing and enforcing minimum age within marriage laws may become a more feasible child marriage prevention approach. Insecurity increases child marriage, and we expect that the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic will be no different: the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that an additional 13 million child marriages will occur between 2020-2030 as a result of COVID-19.
 Research has taught us that the number of child marriages increases explosively in times of crisis and pandemics. We are therefore concerned about the consequences of this crisis on the wellbeing of our main target group: girls and women.
 Girls not Brides has developed a brief on child marriage and COVID-19 for all their development partners, including civil society and governments. It provides insights, recommendations and resources for responding to the needs of adolescent girls during and after this crisis, including those at risk of early marriage, married girls, and those in informal unions.