Today, there are nearly 70 million child brides worldwide, with an estimated 142 million more destined for early marriage over the next decade. Child marriage violates girls’ basic human rights and brings their childhoods to a swift end.
This harmful practice is most common in developing nations and is particularly pervasive across South Asia and Africa, where 50 to 70 percent of girls in some countries are wed before age 18. In societies where girls are valued less than boys, marrying girls as young as 10 years old is routinely deemed a smart economic transaction for poor parents, who, upon their daughter’s marriage, will have one less child to support and may receive “bride price” – money or property – from the groom’s family.
In Amhara, Ethiopia and elsewhere around the globe, many child brides have little or no have access to reproductive health information or services, and thus endure a slew of health problems that further cripple their ability to grow into healthy, productive women. They are at greater risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. They face complications – and death – as a result of early pregnancy and childbearing. Further, children born to child brides are more likely to experience death, malnutrition, stunting and ongoing health problems than those born to mothers just a few years older.
These tragic consequences of child marriage not only impact individual girls’ lives; they also severely undermine global progress on a variety of goals, including ending poverty, ensuring universal access to education and sexual and reproductive health, and strengthening economies. Child marriage also slows efforts to reduce human rights abuses, incidences of maternal mortality and morbidity, and vulnerability to HIV.