March 6 (UPI) — The United Nations said Tuesday the rate of child marriages is decreasing worldwide, but more steps need to be taken to end the practice.
The U.N. report said progress over the last decade has led to 25 million fewer child marriages and overall, the rate of women who became child brides decreased by 15 percent.
“When a girl is forced to marry as a child, she faces immediate and lifelong consequences. Her odds of finishing school decrease while her odds of being abused,” said Anju Malhotra, UNICEF’s principal gender adviser, in a statement. “Given the life-altering impact child marriage has on a young girl’s life, any reduction is welcome news, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
UNICEF, which aims for human rights and gender equality, called child marriage “a fundamental violation of human rights” and set a global target to eliminate practice by 2030.
The largest decline over the last decade took place in South Asia, where rates dropped from 50 percent to 30 percent — largely due to progress in India, the U.N agency said.
“Increasing rates of girls’ education, proactive government investments in adolescent girls, and strong public messaging around the illegality of child marriage and the harm it causes are among the reasons for the shift.”
Despite the progress, the report said about 650 million women around the world who are alive today were married under the age of 18 — and 12 million are married off each year.
Further, the study showed that rates of child marriage have actually gone up with population growth in sub-Saharan Africa. Of the most recently married child brides, one in three are now in sub-Saharan Africa compared to one in five a decade ago.
“Each and every child marriage prevented gives another girl the chance to fulfill her potential,” Malhotra said. “But given the world has pledged to end child marriage by 2030, we’re going to have to collectively redouble efforts to prevent millions of girls from having their childhoods stolen through this devastating practice.”