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Child Marriages: 39,000 Every Day

Child Marriages: 39,000 Every Day
Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband outside their home in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010. Photo Credit: © Stephanie Sinclair/VII/

On March 7, 2013 a special session of the 57th UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will focus on child marriage. The Governments of Bangladesh, Malawi and Canada will jointly sponsor the session and held in support of Every Woman Every Child, a movement spearheaded by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon which aims to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015.

Participants at this special session on child marriage will include: Dr Fahmida Mirza, Speaker of Pakistan's National Assembly; Michelle Bachelet, M.D., Executive Director of UN Women; Babatunde Osotimehin, M.D., Executive Director of UNFPA, Lakshi Sundaram, Global Coordinator of Girls Not Brides; and Her Excellency Marjon Kamara, Ambassador of the Republic of Liberia to the United Nations. Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, General Secretary of the World YWCA, will moderate the session.

The panel will address the problems created by early marriages and ways to prevent them. Mereso Kiluso, a Tanzanian mother of five now in her 20s, who was married at 14 to an abusive man in his 70s, will describe her experience.

Shocking statistics

Between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls will become child brides, according to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). If current levels of child marriages hold, 14.2 million annually or 39,000 daily will marry too young. More shocking is that, of the 140 million girls that will marry before 18, 50 million will be less than 15 years old.  

In South Asia, nearly half of young women and in sub-Saharan Africa more than one third of young women are married by their 18th birthday.

The ten countries with the highest rates of child marriage are: Niger, 75%; Chad and Central African Republic, 68%; Bangladesh, 66%; Guinea, 63%; Mozambique, 56%; Mali, 55%; Malawi, 50%; Burkina Faso and South Sudan, 52%; Madagascar, and Malawi, 50%.

In terms of absolute numbers, because of the size of its population, India has the most child marriages and a prevalence of 47%.

Despite the fact that 158 countries have set the legal age for marriage at 18 years, laws are rarely enforced since the practice of marrying young children is upheld by social norms.

A violation of the rights of girls

Child marriage is increasingly recognised as a violation of the rights of girls, because it hurts girls by:

  • Effectively ending their education
  • Blocking any opportunity to gain vocational and life skills
  • Exposing them to the risk of too-early pregnancy and child bearing, and motherhood before they are physically and psychologically ready
  • Increasing their risk of intimate partner sexual violence and HIV infection

"Child marriage is a huge problem in poor communities,” says Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda. "Early marriage and child marriage robs the future. Girls lose the opportunity for education. They lose the opportunity to choose their partner and must live with that pain for the rest of their lives."

The World YWCA has initiated a petition to CSW urging the group to pass a special resolution calling for an end child marriage. Signatories believe that by working collaboratively, member states and concerned groups can end child marriage by 2030.

Strategies for ending child marriage recommended to the Commission on the Status of Women include:

  • Supporting and enforcing legislation to increase the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18 years;
  • Providing equal access to quality primary and secondary education for both girls and boys;
  • Mobilizing girls, boys, parents and leaders to change practices that discriminate against girls and to create social, economic, and civic opportunities for girls and young women;
  • Providing girls who are already married with options for schooling, employment and livelihood skills, sexual and reproductive health information and services (including HIV prevention), and offering recourse from violence in the home;
  • Addressing the root causes of child marriage, including poverty, gender inequality and discrimination, the low value placed on girls and violence against girls.

Too Young to Wed Panel on Thursday 7 March, 2:30-4:30 p.m.

Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium, United Nations Headquarters, New York

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Interviews with experts are available by phone and in person in New York City and London.

Watch the event in real-time from 2:30-4:30 pm ET on 7 March via livestream from New York!


  • Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #2young2wed
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