One girl under 15 is married every seven seconds, according to new analysis by Save the Children that reveals the scale of the threat posed by child marriage to education, health and children’s safety.
Girls as young as ten are being married – often to much older men – in countries including Afghanistan, Yemen, India and Somalia.
A new report released today by Save the Children, Every Last Girl: Free to live, free to learn, free from harm, has ranked countries in an index from the best to worst country in which to be a girl, based on child marriage, schooling, teen pregnancy, maternal deaths and number of female parliamentarians.
Countries at the bottom of the index include Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Mali and Somalia, many of which have high rates of child marriage. Countries at the top include Sweden, Finland, Norway, Netherlands and Belgium.
“Child marriage starts a cycle of disadvantage that denies girls the most basic rights to learn, develop and be children,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International.
“Girls who marry too early often can’t attend school, and are more likely to face domestic violence, abuse and rape. They fall pregnant and are exposed to STIs including HIV. They also bear children before their bodies are fully prepared, which can have devastating consequences on their and their baby’s health.”
The international community has pledged to end child marriage by 2030, but if current trends continue, the total number of women married in childhood will grow from more than 700 million today to around 950 million by 2030, and to 1.2 billion by 2050.
The report also reveals:
• Girls affected by conflict are more likely to become child brides, with many refugee families marrying off their daughters as a safety or coping mechanism, such as Syrian girls in Lebanon;
• Girls from poor families are more likely to be married early than their richer peers. In Nigeria, 40% of the poorest girls are married by 15, compared to 3% of the richest girls;
• India has the highest number of child marriages of any country, partly owing to the large size of its population, with 47% of girls – around 24.6 million – married under 18;
• Girls suffer most during humanitarian crises such as the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, where schools shutting down led to an estimated 14,000 teen pregnancies;
In Lebanon, Save the Children supports a 14-year-old Syrian girl named Sahar*, who was married at 13 to a 20-year-old man, and is now two months pregnant.
“The wedding day, I was imagining it would be a great day but it wasn’t. It was all misery. It was full of sadness. Many girls who get married at a young age get illnesses and suffer from bleeding. Thank God it didn’t happen to me.,” said Sahar*.
“I feel really blessed that I am having a baby. But I am a child raising a child.”
Save the Children runs a range of programmes that support the most disadvantaged girls around the world. It is calling on governments and donors to invest in girls’ education and life chances, to help bring an end to child marriage and gender discrimination.