Number of child marriages declining too slowly, UNICEF says
The world will need 300 years to eliminate child marriages if current trends continues, according to a new UNICEF report.
The rate of child marriages is declining globally, but a combination of crises, such as conflict and economic hardship, mean it is happening too slowly and could even reverse progress already made, UNICEF warned in a report released on Tuesday evening.
Despite a reduction in the proportion of young women involved in child marriages, from 21% to 19%, approximately 12 million girls annually become child brides, while 640 million girls and women worldwide were married before turning 18, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report said.
"Today, one in five young women aged 20 to 24 years were married as children versus nearly one in four 10 years ago," the report said.
"We definitely have made progress in the abandonment of the practice of child marriage... Unfortunately, this progress was not enough," Claudia Cappa, lead author of the report told the AFP news agency. "At current pace, we might have to wait 300 years to eliminate child marriage."
'Crushing hopes and dreams of vulnerable children'
The report noted that child marriage is a clear violation of children's rights, but it is often seen by families as a "protective" measure for girls, providing financial, social or even physical protection.
The consequences of early marriage are well documented: girls who are forced into such marriages are less likely to stay in school and at greater risk of early pregnancy. Child marriages can also isolate girls from family and friends.
UNICEF warned that global crises, including COVID-19 pandemic, escalating armed conflicts, and the devastating effects of climate change, could force families to seek the apparent safety of child marriages.
COVID-19 alone could result in 10 million underage marriages between 2020 and 2030, UNICEF reported.
UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell stresses that crises are "crushing the hopes and dreams of vulnerable children, especially girls who should be students, not brides."
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Concerns about sub-Saharan Africa
The progress in South Asia was responsible for the overall positive trend, but almost half of all child brides, about 45%, still reside in the region.
India, despite significant progress in recent decades, still accounts for one-third of the world's child marriages.
UNICEF is particularly concerned about sub-Saharan Africa, where the child marriage rate is rising, and it is expected to increase by 10% by 2030. The report notes that girls in the region now face the highest risk of child marriage globally, with one in three marrying before the age of 18.
Latin America and the Caribbean are on track to have the second-highest level of child marriage by 2030.
The Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia regions have seen their numbers stagnate after years of progress.