Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad has some of the highest rates of child marriage globally, a new research from child rights group “Save the Children” has found.
In these countries alone, 1.7 million child marriages are taking place below the national minimum age every year, one of the highest proportions globally.
In all, about 7.5 million girls are married illegally every year and close to 100 million girls are not protected against child marriage under the laws of their countries, the research said.
Marking the International Day of the Girl, the research also revealed that 20,000 girls are married every day below the minimum age permitted by national laws.
A growing number of countries are raising the legal age of marriage or eliminating exceptions under the law that allow early marriage with parental consent or court consent. However, implementing such laws is challenging.
More than two thirds of all child marriages are still taking place below the minimum age permitted by national law, showing the difficulty in ending the practice.
While some of these marriages are informal as opposed to formal unions, most would likely still be illegal under the law. Weak enforcement and a disconnect between national, customary, and religious laws are part of the issue.
Deep-rooted traditions and beliefs mean that traditional leaders in communities still too often support the practice.
Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International, said: “We will not see a world where girls and boys have the same opportunities to succeed in life until we eradicate child marriage.
“When a girl gets married too young, her role as a wife and a mother takes over. She is more likely to leave school, she may become pregnant and suffer abuse,” she added.
Fatmata, 16, from Sierra Leone was married last year. “I was fifteen years old when I met my husband. Right now, I’m not very happy because I didn’t have the chance to do what I wanted to do in life and now I’m pregnant.”
The analysis by Save the Children and the World Bank is calling for urgent action to tackle child marriage at both the national and international levels.
Legal reform to set the age for marriage at a minimum of 18 and eliminating exceptions are needed.
But in addition, national strategies with well-designed targeted interventions are also needed, especially to enable girls to remain in school as a viable alternative to marriage.
The findings come ahead of an African-led conference on ending child marriage to take place in Senegal from the October 23-25.
The West and Central Africa High Level Meeting on Ending Child Marriage will see government leaders, traditional, religious and other influential leaders, child rights organizations, youth, and UN agencies, come together to discuss solutions to end this harmful practice.