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Girls who have fought child marriage and are today going to school using a transporation facility provided in the village of Berhabad, in Jamua block of Giridih.
Prashanth Vishwanathan/UNICEF
Girls & Women

World Needs to Redouble Efforts to Fight Child Marriage, Expert Says

By Joanna Prisco

The last year has seen a global drop in numbers of child marriages, but activists on the frontlines say a true decline will require a confluence of forces around the world.

“Tackling child marriage will require political will, financial and other resources, the provision of appropriate health, education and other services, and a deep understanding of the specific drivers of child marriage in different communities,” wrote Lakshmi Sundaram, executive director of anti-child marriage organization Girls Not Brides, in a new essay for the Council on Foreign Relations.

“By redoubling our efforts, and working in partnership across sectors and continents, we can create a world free of child marriage where girls and boys are able to shape their own futures,” she wrote.

Take Action: Stand with Sonita: Tell World Leaders to End Child Marriage

In March, UNICEF announced that 25 million child marriages were averted over the last decade, citing increasing rates of girls’ education, proactive governments, and strong public messaging around the illegality of child marriage and the harm it causes.

But there is much progress yet to be made. Twelve million girls are married every year around the world – or roughly 1 in 5 girls worldwide married before the age of 18.

And progress, where it exists, has been uneven, Sundaram noted: While India has seen a decline in recent years, for example, many areas of South Asia still see high instances of child marriage. Likewise, Latin America and the Caribbean have seen no declines, despite the burden such unions place on families and governments.

“When a girl is forced to marry as a child, she faces immediate and lifelong consequences,” said Anju Malhotra, UNICEF’s principal gender adviser, at the time of the original report. “Her odds of finishing school decrease while her odds of being abused by her husband and suffering complications during pregnancy increase. There are also huge societal consequences, and higher risk of intergenerational cycles of poverty.”

Read More: Norway Just Banned Child Marriage and Set an Example for the World

Also troubling, Sundaram noted, is that recent data point to child marriage trending in areas of conflict.

To wit, Arab News recently reported that the rate of child marriage in Syria has more than doubled to 14% since the war began, according to Syrian Justice Ministry figures.

Read More: How One Girl Scout Fought Against Child Marriage in New Hampshire and Won

Still, Sundaram sees the recent worldwide declines as proof that further reducing child marriage is not insurmountable.

“The new UNICEF figures demonstrate what members of Girls Not Brides have been saying for some time — that child marriage is not an intractable problem,” wrote Sundaram. “It is possible to bring these numbers down, to ensure a brighter future for girls themselves, as well as their communities and economies.”

Global Citizen campaigns in support of gender equality and women’s rights. You can take action here to call on lawmakers to put an end to child marriage and protect women and girls everywhere.