At This Rate, Child Marriage Will Continue for Centuries: UN

Progress is being made, but not fast enough, according to new report
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 5, 2023 4:35 PM CDT
At This Rate, Child Marriage Will Continue for Centuries: UN
Sonali Begum, 17, cries as she describes how her husband Siddique Ali, 23, was picked up by the police, amid a crackdown on illegal child marriages, at her rented house in Guwahati, India, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.   (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

The world isn't moving fast enough to combat child marriage as, at current rates, it will be another 300 years before the practice is eliminated. That's according to a UN report, which finds 12 million girls are married as minors each year. The report does highlight progress made over the last decade. For example, the rate of women aged 20-24 who were married in childhood dropped from 23% in 2012 to 19% in 2022, per Al Jazeera. "But the report also indicates that the progress is not universal and is not fast enough," one of the authors, UNICEF senior advisor Claudia Cappa, tells NPR. The UN set a goal to eliminate child marriage by 2030. But "we need to be moving at 20 times the rate that we're moving right now to meet" that target, adds Sarah Barnes of the Maternal Health Initiative.

Countries that have experienced noticeable drops in child marriage—India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Rwanda among them—have "all seen a reduction in poverty," alongside "access to secondary education for girls, and employment opportunities for women," Cappa notes. With better economic opportunities for girls, child marriage becomes less attractive to families. But with economic insecurity, families often feel compelled to marry off their young daughters. "It's one less mouth to feed," says Cappa, and brings the hope of financial or physical security for the girl. In reality, child marriage "makes them less likely to be financially secure, and gives them less years of formal education, which limits years of emotional and intellectual growth." It also limits a girl's reproductive autonomy and increases her risk of maternal death and domestic violence, per NPR.

In some areas of sub-Saharan Africa's Sahel, which have seen decades of insecurity as a result of armed conflicts and environmental disasters, 80% of women aged 20-24 have been married in childhood, according to the report. The number of child brides in the sub-Saharan region is actually predicted to increase by 10% by 2030, per Al Jazeera. In addition to war and climate-related disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic has also taken a toll by increasing poverty. According to the report, 10 million girls will become brides by the end of this decade due to the long-term impacts of the pandemic. But "progress to end child marriage is possible," UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell says in a statement. "It requires unwavering support for vulnerable girls and families." (More child marriage stories.)

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