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Unless we act, almost half of the world’s child brides in 2050 will be African, warns UNICEF

Bayush was married when she was just three years old. She lives in the Amhara region in northern Ethiopia where almost 50% of girls are married by the age of 15. With help from the UK aid funded Finote Hiwot programme, Bayush got the support she needed to go back to school. As a result Bayush is no longer married. | Photo credit: Jessica Lea / DFID

125 million African women alive today were married as children and the figures could worsen, according to a new report by UNICEF about progress made on child marriage in Africa.

The good news is that child marriage is on the decline in Africa. The bad news is that progress is uneven and too slow. By 2050, Africa will be home to almost half of the world’s child brides if current trends continue. Even doubling the current rate of reduction will not be enough to reduce the number of child brides. Population growth and a slow decline in the practice across Africa means millions of girls will be at risk.

The UNICEF report was released in time for the first African Girls’ Summit when leaders, development partners, youth and civil society from across Africa came together to show and renew their commitments to ending child marriage. It provides another compelling reason for governments to work with civil society to develop and implement comprehensive responses to end child marriage and support married girls.

Facts about child marriage in Africa

  • Out of the 700 million women and girls married by the age of 18, 17% or 125 million live in Africa.
  • One in three young women in Africa were married or in union by the age of 18.
  • Over the past three decades, child marriage has been on the decline across Africa but progress is uneven. While we are seeing a fast decline in North Africa, the practice is on the rise in Western and Southern Africa.
  • High levels of child marriage persist among the poorest families and communities, with progress limited to the richest.
  • Child marriage rates in Western, Central and Eastern Africa are higher than the global average.
  • As Africa’s population grows, millions of girls will be at risk of child marriage. This means that, if current rates continue, Africa will have the largest number of child brides by 2050.

Country statistics

  • Nigeria is home to the largest number of child brides in Africa: a massive 23 million girls and women were married as children.
  • In South Sudan the picture is bleak for all girls irrespective of household wealth: poor and rich girls are as likely to get married by 18.
  • In Mauritania 60% of married girls have husbands who are at least 10 years older than them.
  • Boys are more likely to be married as children in the Central African Republic than in any other country in Africa.
  • In Mozambique the likelihood of a young woman already having three or more children is seven times higher for those married by 15.
  • In Madagascar, while 28% of girls are married or living with a partner by 18, another 6% are already divorced, widowed or separated.
  • Djibouti, South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia and Rwanda all have levels of child marriage lower than 10%.

For more statistics, read UNICEF’s report “A profile of child marriage in Africa”.