United Nations Predicts High Rates of Child Marriage
Friday, March 15, 2013 12:00 PM

If current rates prevail, the United Nations predicts that more than 140 million girls will become child brides by 2020. The head of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, stated that child marriage is a violation of girl's human rights: it halts education, increases health risks, and increases the probability that girls will fall victim to sexual violence. The majority of the world’s child marriages take place in rural sub-Sarahan Africa and south Asia, with nearly one-third of women married by their 18th birthday in sub-Saharan Africa, and nearly one-half of women married by age 18 in south Asia. Nine out of ten of the countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in Africa, with Niger in the lead with a rate of 75% married by 18. At 66%, Bangladesh has the highest rate in Asian countries.

Poor countries find the fight against child marriage most difficult, as early marriage is not only an accepted traditional practice, but families often have fewer resources to keep girls in school and maintain stability in the home. By marrying off a daughter early, a family will have one less mouth to feed and will likely receive a “bride price” - money or livestock in exchange for a daughter's hand in marriage. “Someone will come in and give a father a cow for a girl when they are eight or nine years old and when they reach puberty they will give another cow," said Catherine Gotani Hara, health minister for Malawi. The legislature in Malawi, with a current child marriage rate of 50%, is trying to raise the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18, with the hope that the change will encourage girls to stay in school longer and cut maternal mortality rates. "Our biggest worry is that where women are getting married early, it is causing a lot of maternal deaths," said Hara. The issue has been included in the government's Safe Motherhood initiative, which involves local tribal chiefs in dispelling the traditional practice. The initiative hopes that this collaboration will encourage communities to send their children to school, specifically girls, and transform the notion that marrying girls early will bring blessings to the family.

Compiled from: Ford, Liz, “140 million girls will become child brides by 2020 at current rates,” The Guardian (08 March 2013).