The call came into the tip line just an hour before the wedding: A-16-year-old girl was about to be married off in a remote part of Bangladesh. Authorities rushed to the house and counseled family members, who then promised to call the ceremony off. Instead they waited until it got darker outside, marrying her off at two in the morning. There was no other choice, they insisted, the father was out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Nations is warning that 13 million more girls will be forced into early marriage over the next decade as families in developing countries, particularly in South Asia and Africa, struggle under the financial hardships of the coronavirus. The economic toll of COVID-19 threatens to set back years of progress in places like Sierra Leone, where the rate of child marriages had plummeted from 56 percent to 39 percent over the past decade. Now there are reports of children as young as 9 being offered as brides. Meanwhile, in India, child advocates say more than 5,200 marriages involving girls took place in just four months of lockdown between March and June — and those are just the ones they've heard about.

In the Coronavirus Child Brides stories, The Associated Press will look at how COVID-19 is leading to a rise in child marriages by families desperate to feed one less mouth. The stories will be set in Sierra Leone, with input from India, Bangladesh and the Middle East. 

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