Unicef: War on child marriage far from over

A young girl with a baby. The war on child marriage is far from over, according to a report by the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund.

Photo credit: File I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • A Unicef report found that India alone accounts for one third of the world’s child brides.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for the second-largest share of the world's child brides at 20 per cent.

The world is still nowhere near the elimination of child marriage, a report by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) suggests.

A Unicef study estimates that 640 million girls and women alive today were married in childhood. Further, nearly half of child brides live in South Asia (45 per cent), with the next largest share in sub-Saharan Africa (20 per cent), followed by East Asia and the Pacific (15 per cent), and Latin America and the Caribbean (nine per cent).

The report, which evaluated data and analytics, and monitored child marriages in about 190 countries, found that India alone accounts for one third of the world’s child brides.The country’s high prevalence is attributed to the legacy of an age-old practice and the country's large population.

Sub-Saharan Africa was also flagged as a region of considerable concern for having the highest risk of child marriage in the world, with one in three girls marrying before they reach 18. Although levels vary across countries, the practice is more concentrated in West and Central Africa, which is home to the highest prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa.

The study also found that girls that came from wealthy backgrounds were less likely than those from low socioeconomic backgrounds to be child brides.

Although United Nation member states are at the halfway point to the deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, reduction of child marriages is not fast enough to meet the target of eliminating the practice by 2030.

At the current rate, the study states that it will take another 300 years to eliminate child marriage. To meet the target, Unicef recommends that efforts to end child marriage be implemented nearly 20 times faster.

Additionally, ongoing crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and conflict increase the risk of girls becoming child brides in several ways.

For instance, the study estimated that an additional 10 million girls will become child brides by 2030 because of pandemic impacts such as interrupted education and income shocks caused by a public health crisis.

The study found that child marriage is common in parts of the world that are growing rapidly, with progress outpaced by challenges due to the rising number of people. This means an increasing number of girls will be at risk of becoming child brides.

“These trends have important implications for girls in the future...This dynamic is particularly acute in Sub-Saharan Africa, where progress in reducing child marriage has lagged and is being outpaced by population growth,’’ the report warns.