Child marriages are declining according to a new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), but at a rate that would not eliminate the practice for another 300 years.
In the report published on Tuesday, May 2, UNICEF estimated that some 640 million girls, teens and women today were married when they were below the age of 18 while an estimated 12 million girls and teens are becoming brides each year, it added.
Over the past 25 years, the rate at which such marriages take place has been slowing. In 1997, 25 percent of young women aged 20 to 24 were married before 18.l, the report adds.
Fifteen years later, that figure had dropped to 23 percent. By 2022, it was at 19 percent.
According to the report, titled “Is an End to Child Marriage Within Reach?”, the decline was largely driven by South Asian nations, particularly India.
“In the last decade alone, a girl’s likelihood of marrying in childhood has dropped by nearly half, from 46 percent to 26 percent,” the report said.
“Of all child marriages averted in the past 25 years, 78 percent were in South Asia. This progress is driven largely by India, although notable declines have also been seen in Bangladesh, Maldives and Pakistan.”
However, the region remained home to the largest total number of child brides, as a result of “age-old practices and the region’s large population”.
South Asia, according to UNICEF, was home to nearly 45 percent of all the world’s child brides.
The report also said the sub-Saharan region was also of “considerable concern”, with girls there now experiencing the highest risk of child marriage in the world. It expects the number of child brides there to increase by 10 percent by 2030.
“The world is engulfed by crises on top of crises that are crushing the hopes and dreams of vulnerable children, especially girls who should be students, not brides,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell in a statement.
“Health and economic crises, escalating armed conflicts, and the ravaging effects of climate change are forcing families to seek a false sense of refuge in child marriage.”
“We’ve proven that progress to end child marriage is possible. It requires unwavering support for vulnerable girls and families,” Russell said.