700 million women were married as children, reveals new UNICEF data

  • New UNICEF report shows progress on ending child marriage & work that remains to be done
  • 700 million women alive today were married as children
  • 280 million girls are at risk of becoming child brides
  • Ending child marriage needs to be an explicit target of the post-2015 development agenda
UNICEF

700 million women alive today – roughly 10% of the world’s population – were married before their 18th birthday; and more than one in three (about 250 million) were married before the age of 15, reveals new UNICEF data on child marriage.

The figures are part of UNICEF’s latest report “Ending child marriage: Progress and prospects”, which looks at trends in child marriage over the past 30 years, and prospects for ending child marriage in the coming decades.

While there are signs of progress on reducing child marriage globally, change isn’t happening fast enough, the report says. Up to 280 million girls alive today are at risk of becoming child brides and unless we act, this number could rise to 320 million by 2050.

These new findings are stark and should prompt urgent action from the international community. If we want to end child marriage within a generation, we need to double our efforts and we need to do it now.

What is new about this data? And what does it tell us about child marriage? Here are some of the highlights from the report.

Scale of child marriage bigger than we thought

For the first time, UNICEF offers an estimate of the total number of women and girls alive today who have been affected by child marriage. The numbers are staggering.

While previous estimates showed that 400 million women aged between 20 and 49 had been married before their 18th birthday, these figures reveal that 700 million women of all ages, living today, were married before 18. That’s roughly 10% of the world’s population. Of these women, 250 million were married before turning 15.

Progress on child marriage not happening fast enough

The good news is that the practice of child marriage is on the decline: globally, 26% of women were married before the age of 18, as opposed to 33% thirty years ago.

However, although the rates of child marriage are going down globally, the total number of girls marrying before 18 is increasing due to the rapid growth of the youth population. 280 million girls alive today are at risk of becoming child brides and this number will approach 320 million by 2050.

UNICEF identifies three possible scenarios in the coming decades:

  • If we don’t see any reduction in child marriage, 950 million women and girls will have married as children by 2030 and nearly 1.2 billion by 2050.
  • If progress continues at the same rate, 490 million girls will avoid early marriage but 700 million women and girls will still be affected by the practice in 2050.
  • If we accelerate progress, we will see a reduction in the numbers affected by child marriage, but that 570 million women and girls will still be affected by 2030 and up to 450 million by 2050.

At this pace, current efforts will not be enough to offset the trends and prevent more girls from being forced into marriage.

Urgent need to act: addressing child marriage in the post-2015 framework

We know the devastating impact that child marriage can have on girls, their communities and their countries, and we are starting to see evidence of some of the economic costs of not acting to address child marriage.

2015 will be a critical year for determining global development priorities for the next decades. The new analysis from UNICEF confirms the importance of addressing child marriage in the post-2015 development framework. These numbers give us a solid basis for identifying ambitious yet realistic targets to measure our progress on reducing child marriage in the next development framework.

It can be difficult to grasp numbers on such a large scale. Yet behind these numbers are millions of girls whose lives are turned upside down by a decision that is outside of their control. We must do everything we can to make sure girls regain control and agency in their lives.

Download the report