Newsbrief, TerraViva United Nations

Child Marriages Will Increase Without Action, Warns UNICEF

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 30 2015 (IPS) - If current trends continue, the number of child brides in Africa could more than double by 2050, UN’s children fund (UNICEF) warned in a new report.

The report, A Profile of Child Marriage in Africa launched on 26 Nov at the first African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Africa, exposes current rates of child marriage in the continent and around the world.

Globally, more than 700 million women and girls were married before their 18th birthday. Within this population, 17 percent live in Africa.

“The sheer number of girls affected – and what this means in terms of lost childhoods and shattered futures – underline the urgency of banning the practice of child marriage once and for all,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake at the launch of the report.

Though child marriage rates have been declining, UNICEF noted that slow progress and rapid population growth in the African continent will put millions more girls at risk of child marriage.

Without action, the number of child brides is projected to increase from 125 million to 310 million in Africa by 2050, surpassing South Asia’s rate of women aged 20 to 24 who were married as children. This will also constitute almost half of all child brides in the world.

Nigeria is currently home to the largest number of child brides in Africa, with 23 million girls and women who were married in childhood.

UNICEF also noted that high levels of child marriage are especially prevalent among rural, poor communities. In Guinea, child marriage rates are more than two times higher in rural areas than in urban areas, and three times higher among poorest households than among the richest.

“The data is also clear that ending child marriage requires a much sharper focus on reaching the poorest and most marginalized girls – those in greatest need and at greatest risk,” said Lake.

During the summit, organized by the African Union (AU), Chairperson of the AU Commission Nkosozana Dlamini Zuma highlighted the issues around child marriage, stating: “Child marriage generates norms that have become increasingly difficult to exterminate – norms that undermine the value of our women.”

Participants also underscored other effects of child marriage, including maternal mortality and impeded access to education.

UNICEF and AU called for accelerated progress, warning that only doubling the rate of reduction will not be enough to reduce the number of child brides in Africa.

“Through greater awareness, teamed with a collaborative approach, the crippling effects of child marriage can be eradicated,” Zuma remarked.

In May 2015, AU launched a continent-wide campaign to ‘End Child Marriage’. It included an action plan to reduce child marriage rates by increasing girls’ access to birth registration, education and reproductive health services as well as strengthening and enforcing policies protecting girls.

“[Girls’] lives, and the futures of their communities, are at stake,” Lake warned. “Each child bride is an individual tragedy. An increase in their number is intolerable,” he concluded.

The globally-adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) commits member States to numerous targets including the elimination of all harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriages.

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