Despite some progress, the fight against child marriage is moving at a frustratingly slow pace, according to a new report by UNICEF. The report published by NPR reveals that the percentage of women aged 20-24 who were married in their childhood has decreased from 23% to 19% over the past decade.
However, the global figure still stands at a staggering 12 million girls married before the age of 18 each year. The report highlights the need for accelerated efforts to eliminate child marriage, as the current rate suggests it will take 300 years to achieve this goal, far beyond the original target 2030 set by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
The report emphasizes that recent crises, including armed conflicts, climate change-related disasters, and the COVID-19 pandemic, have further hindered progress in combating child marriage. These crises contribute to economic insecurity, prompting families to resort to marrying off their daughters early. The connection between child marriage and poverty is highlighted, emphasizing the importance of addressing economic conditions to reduce the practice.
While child marriages persist in various regions globally, South Asia has witnessed significant reductions. Countries like Ethiopia and Rwanda have also made notable progress in combating the practice. The report identifies three common factors contributing to this decline: reduced poverty, increased access to secondary education for girls, and improved employment opportunities for women. These factors create better economic prospects for girls, making child marriage less attractive for families.
Latin America, Central, and West Africa, particularly the Sahel region, still face significant challenges in addressing child marriage. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to seven of the ten countries with the highest prevalence of child marriages. In specific subregions of the Sahel, approximately 80% of women aged 20-24 have been married in childhood. Insecurity resulting from climate change and conflicts has hampered economic improvement and perpetuated the practice.
Crises often lead to an increase in child marriages as families view early marriage as a means of protecting their children, financially and physically. Ongoing conflicts, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the situation, pushing more girls into early marriages. The report estimates that an additional 10 million girls will become child brides by 2030 due to the long-term impacts of pandemic-related social, health, and economic changes.
Child marriages have severe consequences for girls, women, and their children. It robs children of their childhood, prematurely forcing them into adult responsibilities and limiting their access to education.
This perpetuates the cycle of poverty and results in adverse health outcomes, including increased risks of maternal death, complications during pregnancy and childbirth, intimate partner violence, sexually transmitted infections, and cervical cancer. On the other hand, women who marry as adults experience better economic and health outcomes, emphasizing the importance of addressing child marriage as a societal issue.
The UNICEF report underscores the urgent need for intensified global efforts to eliminate child marriage. Despite some progress, the slow pace of change and the persistent challenges posed by crises require a comprehensive approach to addressing poverty, education, and employment opportunities for girls. Curbing child marriages will benefit individuals and contribute to the well-being of families, communities, and society as a whole.