Unicef estimates that child marriages are slowly declining, but crises could undo hard-won gains. In the analysis released on Wednesday, the United Nations Children's Fund estimates that 12 million girls are involved in child marriage every year. According to this, there are currently 640 million girls and women in the world who were married before their 18th birthday.
The proportion of young women in child marriages has fallen from 21 percent to 19 percent since the last estimate five years ago. As a Unicef spokeswoman explained on Wednesday in Cologne, these percentages relate to young women aged between 20 and 24 who were married before their 18th birthday. "In 2017, the proportion of young women in this age group who were married before their 18th birthday was 21 percent and in the latest estimate - based on the year 2022 - 19 percent."
However, Unicef Executive Director Catherine Russell warned: “Multiple crises are dashed the hopes and dreams of children around the world – especially girls who should be students, not brides.” Health and economic crises, escalating armed conflicts and the devastating effects of climate change are forcing families to seek perceived security in child marriages.
Advances in South Asia
In sub-Saharan Africa, an increasing number of child marriages is to be expected due to the strong population growth and the ongoing crises. Development is largely stagnating in Latin America and the Caribbean, in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Progress in South Asia is mainly responsible for the overall positive global trend.
According to the UNICEF report, the region is well on the way to abolishing child marriages in around 55 years. However, almost half of all child brides still live in the region - 45 percent. Although India has made significant strides in recent decades, it still accounts for a third of the world's child marriages.
Giving girls economic opportunities
Girls who are forced into child marriages are reported to be less likely to remain in school and at increased risk of early pregnancy. Early marriage can also isolate girls from family and friends.
"We have proven that progress in ending child marriage is possible," Russell said. The support for endangered girls and families must therefore continue tirelessly. "We need to focus on keeping girls in school and making sure they have economic opportunities."