Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Child Marriage, Sexual and Reproductive Health, and Domestic Violence in India and Zambia

Project Description

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastating socioeconomic consequences and is projected to severely slow down progress towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations 2030 Agenda. The SDG5 for “Gender Equality” is no exception. Accordingly, UN Secretary-General António Guterres notes: “Limited gains in gender equality and women’s rights made over the decades are in danger of being rolled back due to the COVID-19 pandemic” (United Nations, 2020). In light of this, the proposed project aims at assessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on gender inequality in the Global South. We thereby put specific focus on three central indicators of gender inequality, namely (1) gender-based violence (SDG target 5.2), (2) child and forced marriage (SDG target 5.3), and (3) sexual and reproductive health (SDG target 5.6).

The proposed project aims to shed light on these questions in two countries of the Global South, in which strong existing research partnerships will enable fast evidence generation: Zambia and India. UNICEF (2020) estimates that 1.5 million girls in India are married before reaching adulthood each year and up to one in four Indian girls give birth during adolescence (Nguyen et al., 2019). Recent estimates suggest that one in eight women was exposed to physical and/or sexual violence in the previous year (Daruwalla et al., 2020). In Zambia, almost one in three girls is married and falls pregnant before her 18th birthday (UNICEF, 2020). Over 40% of Zambian women and girls have experienced sexual and/or physical violence in their lives. 

Building on this, the project has three objectives:

  • Objective 1: Understanding the pandemic’s impact on child marriage, sexual and reproductive health, and domestic violence in India & unpacking underlying mechanisms.
  • Objective 2: Understanding the pandemic’s impact on child marriage, sexual and reproductive health, and domestic violence in Zambia & unpacking underlying mechanisms. 
  • Objective 3: Examining how cultural and contextual differences (e.g., marriage customs) shape the impact of the pandemic on the above gender inequality outcomes.

The proposed research will provide crucial insights into the immediate harms that the pandemic puts onto young women and girls. Knowledge on which groups are most vulnerable is vital information for policy-making and can help channelling emergency relief and support mechanisms towards these families and girls.


  • Dr. Ana Garcia Hernandez (Innovation for Poverty Action Columbia)
  • Shraddha Deo (SNEH Foundation)
  • Jessy Ezebuihe (World Bank)
  • Shahaji Gadhire (Astitva Foundation)
  • Alisha Meyers (World Bicycle Relief)
  • Prof. Dr. Malavika Subramanyam (IIT Gandhinagar)
  • Shruti Shukla (TUM School of Governance)
  • Rucha Vasumati Satish 

The project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG)

Project Publications

Steinert JIPrince H, Ezebuihe JA, Shukla SViolence Against Adolescent Girls During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Quantitative Evidence From Rural and Urban Communities in Maharashtra, India. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2023; Online First.

Shukla S, Ezebuihe JA, Steinert JI. Association between public health emergencies and sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence, and early marriage among adolescent girls: a rapid reviewBMC Public Health. 2023;  23(1), 117.

Shukla S, Castro Torres AF, Vasumati Satish R, Shenderovich Y, Omolade Abejirinde I-O, Steinert JIFactors associated with adolescent pregnancy in Maharashtra, India: a mixed-methods studySexual and Reproductive Health Matters. 2023; Online First.