Hi folks! Apologies for the rather extended break in posting but today seemed like the perfect day to get back to it. As you may know, October 11th is the International Day of the Girl Child which aims to galvanise action towards building a World where all girls can live happy and healthy lives.
In particular, UN Women is using today to call on the international community to collect more and better data on the real challenges that girls face and chief among them is child marriage.
As you can see from the image at the top of this post, in 2014, 8% of women aged 20-24 in the World for whom there was data had been married before they were 15 and a whopping 27% had been married before they were 18*. (*Health warning here: because of lack of quality data, there is uncertainty around these figures. Data for South East Asia for example couldn’t be computed because the coverage area was too small. Just another example of why more and better data could lead to better lives for women and girls)
Why does it matter?
Childhood marriage is a breach of fundamental human rights and has been proven time and again to adversely impact girls’ life chances in multiple ways.
The connection between child marriage and poverty has long been established. According to UN Women, poor girls are 2.5 times more likely to be married in childhood than non-poor girls and when they do, this usually means that girls leave education with knock on effects of social isolation and lower/ no employment prospects trapping them and their families in a vicious cycle of poverty. Child brides are also at a far greater risk of violence at the hands of an intimate partner.
According to a 2014 UNICEF study, child brides are usually unable to negotiate safe sex and face considerable pressure to become pregnant and so are at greater risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, and end up with more children to care for while being far less likely to receive medical care during their pregnancy.
Where is it happening?
Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest proportion of child marriage
For example, in West and Central Africa, 14% of girls were married before they were 15. By the time the girls turned 18, 42% of them were married.
Hover over individual countries on this map to see percentages of girls married before the age of 15 in those locations.
Compare the percentages of girls married before their 18th birthday using this map.
What does the future hold?
Over the past few decades, the rate of child marriage has thankfully been declining. However, the trouble is that with population set to grow (World population is predicted to hit 9.7bil by 2050), if we continue at the rate of decline we have been seeing, UNICEF estimates that the number of child brides would drop from its current estimate of 720m to 710m- a drop of just 10m- by 2050.
Childhood marriage not only robs girls of the childhood they deserve, it has been proven to severely disadvantage them throughout their lives and further impact the life chances of their children. Accelerating the rate of decline of child marriage then is key to building a more equitable society that allows girls and boys, women and men to flourish. Collecting more and better data on how/ why girls end up vulnerable to child marriage would be a vital step towards ending this practice.
All data was taken from the UNICEF global database on child marriage.
Estimates for South and East Asia and Pacific not possible due to insufficient data coverage.