The United Nations Population Fund on Tuesday projected around seven million unwanted pregnancies due to lost access to contraceptives if the coronavirus-related lockdowns in most countries remain in place for the next six months.

In such a situation, more than 47 million women in 114 low- and middle-income countries may not be able to access contraceptives, the UN body said. Also, an additional 13 million child marriages are likely between 2020 and 2030 since the lockdowns will hit the efforts to curb them, said the organisation.

The UN Population Fund is the sexual and reproductive health agency of the United Nations. The report comes at a time when the Covid-19 crisis is causing major disruption globally, bringing normal life and access to many services to a standstill.

“This new data shows the catastrophic impact that Covid-19 could soon have on women and girls globally,” UN Population Fund Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem said. “The pandemic is deepening inequalities, and millions more women and girls now risk losing the ability to plan their families and protect their bodies and their health.”

As health systems are overloading and facilities are limiting services, many women and girls are skipping important medical check-ups as they fear contracting Covid-19, said the report of the research, which was conducted by the UN Population Fund along with health policy organisation Avenir Health and researchers from the Johns Hopkins University and Victoria University.

The key projections of the study showed that during the Covid-19 crisis, 31 million more cases of gender-based violence may occur if lockdowns remain for six months. “For every three months the lockdown continues, an additional 15 million extra cases of gender-based violence are expected,” the report said. Moreover, disruptions in the programmes that aim to prevent female genital cutting could lead to two million instances of the practice over the next decade, the UN body said.

Kanem said that women’s reproductive health and rights must be safeguarded at all costs. “The services must continue, the supplies must be delivered, and the vulnerable must be protected and supported,” she said.