Download the video of a child bride meeting her new husband here.
Globally, 1 in 5 women were married before their 18th birthday
When a girl is forced to marry as a child, she faces immediate and lifelong consequences. Her odds of finishing school decrease while her odds of experiencing domestic violence increase. She is more likely to become pregnant during adolescence, and young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s. There are also huge societal consequences, and higher risk of perpetuating intergenerational cycles of poverty.
While the prevalence of child marriage is decreasing globally, in many places, progress on ending this practice remains too slow. In order to finally end this practice by 2030 – the target set out in the Sustainable Development Goals – progress must be significantly accelerated. Without further acceleration, more than 150 million additional girls will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030.
“For many, Valentine’s Day is associated with romance, flowers and marriage proposals,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “Yet for millions of girls around the world, marriage is not a choice but an unwelcome end to their childhood and future. The solution is simple: Ban child marriage, invest in education, and empower young people, families and communities to bring about positive change. Only then will we end this devastating practice by 2030 and protect the 150 million girls at risk.”
10 key facts on child brides:
- Worldwide, an estimated 650 million girls and women alive today were married before their 18th birthday.
- Globally, the total number of girls married in childhood is estimated at 12 million per year.
- South Asia is home to the largest number of child brides with more than 40 per cent of the global burden (285 million or 44 percent of the global total), followed by sub-Saharan Africa (115 million or 18 percent of the global total).
- The practice of child marriage has declined around the world. In the past decade, the proportion of women who were married as children decreased by 15 per cent, from 1 in 4 (25%) to approximately 1 in 5 (21%), that’s around 25 million child marriages that have been prevented. Increasing rates of girls’ education, proactive government investments in adolescent girls, and strong public messaging around the illegality of child marriage and the harm it causes are among the reasons for the shift.
- In South Asia, a girl’s risk of marrying in childhood has declined by more than a third, from nearly 50 per cent a decade ago to 30 per cent today, largely driven by great strides in reducing the prevalence of child marriage in India.
- Increasingly, the global burden of child marriage is shifting from South Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa, due to both slower progress and a growing population. Of the most recently married child brides, close to 1 in 3 are now in sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 1 in 7 25 years ago.
- In Latin America and the Caribbean, there is no evidence of progress at all, with levels of child marriage as high as they were 25 years ago.
- Child marriage occurs in high-income countries too. In the United States, the majority of all 50 States have an exception in law that allows children to marry before the age of 18. As of 2017, in the European Union, only four countries tolerate no exceptions to the minimum age of 18 for marriage.
- Marrying in childhood has repercussions across many areas of a girl’s life. For example, in Ethiopia, the majority of young women who married in childhood gave birth before their 20th birthday and child brides were less likely to receive skilled care during their last pregnancy and delivery. In addition, married adolescent girls in Ethiopia are three times more likely to be out of school than their unmarried peers.
- In order to eliminate child marriage by 2030 as set out in the Agenda for Sustainable Development, global progress would need to be 12 times faster than the rate observed over the past decade.
UNICEF is working to end child marriage in 64 countries globally. Click here to donate to UNICEF’s work to #EndChildMarriage.
Estimates of the global and regional prevalence of child marriage are calculated on the basis of national estimates in the UNICEF global databases, comprised of nationally representative data from over 100 countries. National data on child marriage are primarily drawn from household surveys, including the UNICEF-supported Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and the USAID-supported Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). Demographic data are drawn from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.
All references to ‘marriage’ or ‘child brides’ include both formal marriages and informal unions in which women started living together with a partner as if married.
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UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.