Child Marriages In Africa Are Increasing At Frightening Rates

Shiraaz Mohamed/Associated Press.
A new UNICEF report has some harrowing news. If rates of growth continue, the number of child brides in Africa could more than double by 2050.

The report A Profile Of Child Marriage In Africa, released at the African Union Girls Summit in Zambia on Thursday, found that while rates of child marriage in other regions were dropping, Africa's slow rates of reduction in child marriage, in addition to a rising population, would bring the number of child brides to a potential 310 million by 2050, as opposed to an estimated 125 million today. Worldwide, an estimated 700 million girls and women who were married before their 18th birthday are alive today; 17% of them live in Africa. If the growth continues as predicted, by 2050, nearly half of the world’s child brides will be African.

In May, the African Union launched a two-year campaign to end child marriage, incorporating actions such as increasing access to education and reproductive services as well as stronger enforcement of laws and policies intended to protect girls and women.

While there has been some progress, it’s been drastically unequal along demographic and income lines, with girls from poor families still at high risk. Young girls whose families are in the poorest fifth of the continent are twice as likely to to be married before the age of 18 as girls from wealthy families, rates that have seen little change in the past 25 years.

In many ways, being married young means the end of a girl’s chances for a good life. Child brides are usually forced to drop out of school, ending the education that would create opportunity for them. It also means that they are likely to have more children at younger ages than they would otherwise. The report found that in the southeast African country of Mozambique, the likelihood that a young woman had three or more children was “seven times higher for those who had married by age 15.” Child brides are also more likely to be victims of violence and have difficulties in childbirth.

“Each child bride is an individual tragedy,” UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake said in the report’s press release. “An increase in their number is intolerable."

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