Child marriage numbers staggering

10 June 2019 | International

An estimated 115 million boys and men around the world were married as children, Unicef said on Friday in its first ever in-depth analysis of child grooms. Of these, one in five children, or 23 million, were married before the age of 15.

Using data from 82 countries, the study reveals that child marriage among boys is prevalent across a range of countries around the world, spanning sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, South and East Asia as well as the Pacific.

“Marriage steals childhood,” said Unicef's executive director, Henrietta Fore.

“Child grooms are forced to take on adult responsibilities for which they may not be ready. Early marriage brings early fatherhood, and with it added pressure to provide for a family, cutting short education and job opportunities.”

According to the data, the Central African Republic has the highest prevalence of child marriage among males (28%), followed by Nicaragua (19%) and Madagascar (13%).

The new estimates bring the total number of child brides and child grooms to 765 million. Girls remain disproportionately affected, with one in five young women aged 20 to 24 years old getting married before their 18th birthday, compared to 1 in 30 young men.

Speaking to News24 from Nigeria on Friday, James Elder, Unicef's eastern and southern Africa chief of communication, said the numbers were “overwhelming”.

“When you break it down it's around 12 million new child brides or grooms per year. So, when you're living in the moment that translates to 22 marriages per minute.

“One associates marriages with happiness and celebration, and yet, child marriages are quite the opposite. A marriage should be a union of people trying to increase their chances to take on and do well in the world. Child marriages do the opposite - they deprive kids of opportunities.

“For example, we know for a fact that every year of additional schooling can increase a person's wages by about 10%, and yet we know that children who get married tend to drop out of school, they tend to have children younger, and those children then suffer poor nutrition, poor stimulation, poor healthcare, and so the cycle of poverty is perpetuated,” says Elder.

Elder says the staggering number of child marriages has taken away a world of opportunities from millions of boys and girls.

“In South Africa alone, around 6% of girls marry before they turn 18. But that figure might be higher because a lot of it doesn't get reported.

“Asia used to be the area with the highest percentage, and it still has the highest number, but the highest percentage now goes to this region.”