Every day 33,000 girls are married as children, denied their rights to education and robbed of their childhood, since in more than 91 countries in the world, child marriage is legal.
According to the UN, if nothing is done, by 2030, the number of girls married as children will reach 1 billion.
On the occasion of the international women’s day, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) launched a multi-country initiative to protect millions of girls from child marriage.
The Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage will involve families, communities, governments and young people as part of a global effort to prevent girls from marrying too young and to support those already married as children in 12 countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East where child marriage rates are high.
It is very difficult to get accurate data on the true extent of child marriages because they are not often officially registered or easily falsified, especially in rural areas. With 50% of girls married before the age of 15, Ethiopia counts the most child marriages.
However, western countries like the United States also face a child marriage problem, as according to the New York Times thousands of teenagers under 18 have recently taken marital vows in the US, mostly girls married to adult men, often with approval from local judges.
Increasing girls’ access to education, educating parents and communities on the dangers of child marriage, increasing economic support to families, and strengthening and enforcing laws that establish 18 as the minimum age of marriage are the five strategies the programme will focus on.
“The world has awakened to the damage child marriage causes to individual girls, to their future children, and to their societies,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “This new global programme will help drive action to reach the girls at greatest risk – and help more girls and young women realize their right to dictate their own destinies.”
UNICEF and UNPF reminds us that child marriage is a global concern because it violates the rights of girls and women. Girls who are married as children are more likely to be out of school, suffer domestic violence, contract HIV/AIDS and die due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Child marriage also hurts economies and leads to intergenerational cycles of poverty.