It wasn't long ago that Afsana Akter was allowed to be what she was: half child, half teenager.

She went to school, met her friends there and enjoyed the moments together that pushed life in her slum in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, into the background for a few moments.

She likes to think back to Kanamachi (“blind fly”) in particular.

Tim Niendorf

political editor.

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In this game, which is widespread in their homeland and is similar to the German counterpart "Blindekuh", a child is blindfolded.

The "blind fly" has to catch the friends standing around, as they widen the circle to escape.

Once the "blind fly" has caught someone and guessed the prisoner's name, the prisoner himself becomes a kanamachi and the catcher is released.

At the time, Afsana dreamed of becoming a doctor one day.

It was a dream that will never come true in the slum anyway - and was shattered prematurely by reality during the pandemic.

When the lockdown came, Afsana's parents lost their jobs.

Her father could no longer drive a rickshaw, her mother no longer earned any money in the textile industry.

It wasn't long before her parents informed the sixteen-year-old of a decision that would radically change her life.

We will marry you, they informed her.

Her childhood ends abruptly

She wasn't prepared for that, says the now 18-year-old.

She would have liked to continue pursuing her dreams, but from one day to the next childhood was over, the kanamachi game and the carefree moments with her friends.

She hasn't seen them again to this day, many of them felt like her, some were only 14 or 15 years old when they tied the knot.

They had to be grown up like Afsana, from now on.

Afsana's fate exemplifies what happened quietly in many parts of the world during the pandemic.

When schools in Bangladesh reopened for face-to-face classes after a break of about a year and a half, numerous headmasters and teachers reported that classes had shrunk and that students suddenly stopped showing up in class.

It is clear to everyone, teachers and students, where these girls have remained: at home.

For Afsana, too, the motto now is: household instead of homework.

The number of child marriages had dropped noticeably worldwide before the pandemic.

But the coronavirus has wiped out much of the progress.

Also at stake is the ambitious 2030 Agenda of the United Nations, which among other things has set itself the goal of a world without child marriages by 2030.

According to UNICEF estimates, there are still 115 million boys and men who were married as children.

According to the UN, there are also 650 million girls and women, half of whom live in Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

A national goal has been set there, not quite as ambitious as that of the UN, but still: In the year 2041, 70 years after independence, there should be no more child marriages in the country with 160 million inhabitants.

And indeed, the development was positive in Bangladesh before the pandemic.

At the beginning of the 1970s, 93 percent of all Bangladeshi women were married before their eighteenth birthday; just before Corona, it was 51 percent.

Most of those affected live in the countryside or in slums and come from poor backgrounds, like Afsana.

Numbers show that marriages end their childhood prematurely.

Half of these newly married women give birth to their first child before their eighteenth birthday, eight out of ten become mothers before their twentieth birthday.

Laws cannot prevent child marriages

To counteract this, the government of Bangladesh passed a law five years ago, according to which women can only marry at the age of 18 and men only at the age of 21.

However, that hasn't prevented the dramatic rise in child marriages during the pandemic.

The number is said to have increased by a double-digit percentage – and thousands of young girls became victims of a criminal act.