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Nearly half of world’s child brides are in South Asia

Despite the setbacks, the region leads the world in reducing child marriage, says UNICEF report
A young Muslim bride is seen during a mass wedding ceremony in Ahmedabad, India in this file image. South Asia is home to nearly half of the world's child brides, says a report from UNICEF

A young Muslim bride is seen during a mass wedding ceremony in Ahmedabad, India in this file image. South Asia is home to nearly half of the world's child brides, says a report from UNICEF. (Photo: Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images)

Published: May 04, 2023 11:47 AM GMT
Updated: May 05, 2023 08:57 AM GMT

South Asia faces the daunting task of eliminating child marriages as the region is home to nearly half of the world’s child brides, says a report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

South Asian countries account for 290 million or 45 percent of the total of 640 million child brides globally, according to the report released on May 1.

South Asia is followed by sub-Saharan Africa with 20 percent child brides, East Asia and the Pacific at 15 percent, and Latin America and the Caribbean at 9 percent, the report said.

The report used data collected from women aged 20 to 24 years who were married before the age of 18.

UNICEF in its report stated that the current rate of decline in the practice of child marriage was insufficient to achieve the target of eliminating it by 2030.

“In fact, at the current rate, it will take another 300 years until child marriage is eliminated [globally],” the report said.

According to the report, the pace of decline must be at least 20 times to reach the sustainable development goals of child marriage eradication set by UNICEF.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) no 5.3 targets to “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation.”

Among South Asian nations, India is a major contributor accounting for around one-third of the world’s child brides while leading the fight to eliminate the practice.

According to the report, “this [India’s] share is equal to the next 10 countries combined, which account for a further third.”

Until 2023 India was reported to have 216.6 million girls and women who were first married or in union before age 18, among South Asian nations.

Among the other nations, Bangladesh reported 41.6 million child brides, followed by Pakistan at 19.4 million, Nepal at 5.3 million, and Afghanistan at 4.0 million.

Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage in South Asia where about 51 percent of women are still married before 18. The country is ranked eighth among the top countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage.

However, the report said despite the setbacks, South Asia leads the world in reducing the prevalence of child marriage.

“Today, one in five young women aged 20 to 24 years were married as children versus nearly one in four 10 years ago,” the report said.

“Of all child marriages averted in the past 25 years, 78 percent were in South Asia,” the report further added.

The report pointed out that in the last decade, a girl’s likelihood of marrying in childhood has declined from 46 percent to 26 percent.

Concerning the benefits of avoiding child marriage, the report pointed out that girls from wealthier families have benefited more in comparison to those from poor families.

“Girls from the richest households represent three times as many of the averted cases of child marriage as girls from the poorest households,” the report said.

However, the report pointed out that poverty and illiteracy are driving factors behind child marriage in South Asia, which is also home to about half of the world’s poor.

“Child brides in South Asia are more likely to live in poor households, have less education, and reside in rural areas,” UNICEF said, adding that most child brides in the region are out of school.

The report stated that “in many countries, marriage and schooling are viewed as incompatible, and decisions about removing a girl from school and marrying her off at a young age are often made at the same time.”

The profile of child marriages in South Asia also indicated that access to reproductive health services for child brides varies across countries.

“In some countries, child brides are less likely to have a skilled attendant at birth,” the report said.

Across the globe, 12 million girls are still married before they are 18, or some 23 girls every minute, according to Girls Not Brides, a global coalition against child marriage.

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