Startling new research from Save the Children and the World Bank estimates that 7.5 million girls are married below the minimum age permitted by national law every year.
That breaks down to more than 20,000 girls being married illegally across the world every day.
The research is being released to mark the International Day of the Girl and signals an effort by the organisations involved to tackle illegal child marriage at both the national and international levels.
Kirsty McNeill, Save the Children’s Executive Director of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns said, “Laws banning the practice are an important first step. But millions of vulnerable girls will continue to be at risk unless child marriage is tackled head-on. We need to change attitudes in communities so that we can end this harmful practice once and for all.”
A growing number of countries are raising the legal age of marriage, but implementing such laws is proving to be a challenge. And while some of the marriages detailed in the research are informal rather than formal unions, most are still likely to be illegal.
As well as changes in the law, equality and education are cited as important factors in addressing the problem.
“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”, Kirsty McNeill says. “The longer a girl stays in education, the more likely it is that she grows up healthy, secures a livelihood and has healthy and educated children of her own.”
West and Central Africa is home to many of the countries with the highest rates of child marriage globally. In this region alone, 1.7 million child marriages are taking place below the national minimum age every year.