UNICEF estimates that today some 640 million girls and women have been married under the age of 18.
Child marriages are declining, but at a rate that won’t eliminate the practice for another 300 years as a series of crises, including climate change, threaten to reverse the trend, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a report.
In the report published Tuesday, UNICEF estimates that today about 640 million girls, teenagers and women have been married under the age of 18.
Currently, an estimated 12 million girls and teens become brides each year, it added.
Over the past 25 years, the rate at which such marriages occur has slowed. In 1997, 25 percent of young women ages 20 to 24 were married before age 18.
Fifteen years later, that figure had fallen to 23 percent. In 2022 it was 19 percent.
Our new report shows that girls around the world are facing a crisis:
Conflict, climate shock and the pandemic are undoing the hard-earned gains made to end child marriage.https://t.co/fYzHaJGP7M
— UNICEF (@UNICEF) May 3, 2023
According to the report, titled “Is an end to child marriage within reach?”, the decline was largely driven by South Asian countries, especially India.
“In the last decade alone, the likelihood of a girl marrying in her youth has fallen by nearly half, from 46 percent to 26 percent,” the report said.
“Of all child marriages averted in the past 25 years, 78 percent took place in South Asia. This progress is largely driven by India, although notable declines have also been observed in Bangladesh, the Maldives and Pakistan.”
However, the region continued to be home to the largest total number of child brides, due to “age-old practices and the region’s large population”.
South Asia was home to nearly 45 percent of all child brides in the world, according to UNICEF.
The report also said that the sub-Saharan region is also of “significant concern” as girls there are now at the highest risk of child marriage in the world. It expects the number of child brides there to increase by 10 percent by 2030.
#EndingChildMarriage is only possible by addressing the root cause: gender inequality. #Comprehensive Sexuality Education addresses gender inequality and transforms gender norms by supporting girls to make healthy decisions about their bodies, lives and relationships.
— Girls Not Brides (@GirlsNotBrides) April 28, 2023
Dreaded trend reversal
UNICEF also fears that the convergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, global conflicts and the mounting effects of climate change could wipe out hard-won gains.
“The world is engulfed in crises on top of crises that destroy the hopes and dreams of vulnerable children, especially girls who should be students, not brides,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said in a statement.
“Health and economic crises, escalating armed conflicts and the devastating effects of climate change are forcing families to seek a false sense of refuge in child marriage.”
The coronavirus alone could be responsible for an additional 10 million underage marriages between 2020 and 2030, the report said.
“We have proven that progress in ending child marriage is possible. It requires unwavering support for vulnerable girls and families,” Russell said.