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Girls Not Brides welcomes historic drop in global number of child marriages but warns complacency is not an option

Credit: UNICEF/Vlad Sokhin.

LONDON 6 March 2018 – Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage welcomes new data published by UNICEF today showing a significant drop in the global number of child marriages. However, the organisation cautioned that there is still a long way to go before child marriage is a thing of the past.

UNICEF estimates that globally 12 million girls marry each year before they turn 18; this is a drop from their previous estimate of 15 million per year. The number of women alive today who were married as children has also declined from an estimated 720 to 650 million. The proportion of women worldwide aged 20-24 who were first married or in union before age 18 has dropped from about 25% to 21%.

“The new numbers released today by UNICEF are very encouraging and show that child marriage is a problem that can be solved,” said Mabel van Oranje, Chair of Girls Not Brides.

“However, we must not become complacent. There is still a long way to go. It is unacceptable that 12 million girls are still being married off each year before age 18. Until each one of those girls has the opportunity to choose who, when and whether she marries, we must redouble our efforts to end child marriage.”

UNICEF estimates that 25 million child marriages were averted over the last decade. This is welcome news but there is much more to be done. The world has committed – through the Sustainable Development Goals – to end child marriage by 2030. However, if progress is not accelerated, 150 million girls will marry as children between now and then.

Progress has been uneven across countries and regions. Particularly notable are sharp decreases in India and Ethiopia. These countries have historically had large numbers of child brides, but they have also recognised the negative impact of child marriage early on. More work needs to be done now to understand the specific factors that have led to the drop in numbers, and the reasons behind regional and local differences.

An adolescent girl gazes into the distance.

Photo credit: UNICEF/Vincent Tremeau

Lakshmi Sundaram, Executive Director of Girls Not Brides said: “These figures are a clear indication that interventions to tackle child marriage do have an impact. By working in partnership across countries, sectors, communities and families we can build on lessons learned and create real change in the lives of girls everywhere.” She continued: “The Sustainable Development Goals have a target of ending child marriage by 2030. We cannot afford to lose momentum, if we want to relegate child marriage to the history books.”

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For more information, or for interviews with Lakshmi Sundaram please contact: Fiona Carr, Head of Communications: Landline: +44 (0)20 3725 5873 or Mobile: +44 (0)7392 310 256.

An adolescent girl stands in a classroom, in front of a blackboard.

Photo credit: UNICEF/Vlad Sokhin.

Notes to editors

About Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage

Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 900 civil society organisations from over 95 countries, including India and Ethiopia, committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfil their potential.

About child marriage

Child marriage is a global problem. It cuts across countries, cultures and religions. While sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have the highest rates of child marriage overall, the practice happens everywhere, including in parts of Europe and the United States.

The key reason behind child marriage is gender inequality. Girls are not valued as much as boys – they are seen as a ‘burden’ and their only role in society is to become wives and mothers. As a result, parents and society do not consider alternatives to child marriage, nor do they see the need to invest in their daughters’ education.

Child marriage is also fuelled by poverty, and the belief that girls will be ‘safer’ by being married young. In times of humanitarian crisis, for example, child marriage rates increase. In fact, girls are less safe when they are married young and are more likely to be exposed to domestic and other forms of violence. They are also at higher risk of dying or experiencing difficulties during childbirth.

There is no single solution to ending child marriage. There needs to be a multi-pronged, integrated approach from all sectors. Girls need to be empowered to know their rights and exercise them; families and communities need to be mobilised; governments need to show strong leadership on the issue, and provide services such as education, health and child protection; strong laws and policies to protect girls also need to be developed and uniformly implemented.

Read more on our theory of change.

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About the data

UNICEF estimates are calculated on the basis of nationally representative data from over 100 countries.

National data on child marriage are primarily drawn from household surveys, including the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). Demographic data are drawn from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.