Despite the progress made to ensure human rights in the poorest African countries, millions of girls from the continent still face the issue of child marriage. Ignited by poverty, but also by traditions and cultural behavior, this phenomenon is sometimes believed to be the only way to escape poverty and hunger. But is that really so?
Due to a lack of education and healthcare, girls are unable to learn new skills and grow as individuals and thus become extremely vulnerable.
Today, there are approximately 130 million women and girls in Africa who were married before turning 18.
While some African nations have managed to demonstrate positive results in lowering the number of child marriages, there remain nations where the issue is still widely practiced.
Globally, the majority of girls who are married before turning 18 live in Africa, and, more specifically, 40% live in countries from West and Central Africa and about a third reside in nations in East and Southern Africa, followed by Asia and the Pacific with 25%.
Child marriage data and facts
Based on UNICEF data, approximately 650 million women living around the globe today have become prisoners of child marriage.
- On a global level, over the last 10 years, child marriage decreased by 15%. The main reasons include government investment in education and public information about this issue
- Due to the COVID-19 crisis, experts believe an additional 10 million girls below the age of 18 are at risk of getting married by 2030
- Every year, the world witnesses 12 million girls under 18 years old getting married
- The West and Central African regions are home to 60 million women who have faced child marriage
- UNICEF data shows that the number of child marriages in poor regions considerably exceeds that in wealthy or metropolitan regions. In Central and West Africa, for instance, the prevalence of child marriage is more than twice as high in rural areas as it is in urban locations.
- Due to a slower development rate and increasing birth rates, the number of child marriages is extremely high in countries that form part of sub-Saharan Africa
- To tackle the issue by 2030, the world would require a development rate that exceeds the growth rate witnessed over the last 10 years by 12 times
Top 10 countries that registered the highest child marriage rate (2021)
Niger is the nation registering the highest child marriage rate in the world. About 75% of girls aged between 15 and 18 and 36% of girls under the age of 15 get married. The country holds 13th place in terms of absolute numbers with 745,000 females married before turning 18.
While Niger boasts the highest rate, another country, Nigeria, being the most populated nation in the sub-Saharan area (over 217 million), has the highest number of child brides (22 million).
Reasons for child marriages in Africa
There are various, intricately linked factors that contribute to child marriage, and these factors differ between and within nations.
- Gender inequality, along with poverty, are among the main drivers of the issue, with marriage delivering expectations of better social status and financial aid for both underage girls and their parents.
- Social and religious customs such as the dread of dishonor arising from unmarried pregnancies also play their role.
- Lack of education. In Niger, for instance, 81% of women aged 20 to 24 who did not receive any education were married before turning 18.
- Armed conflicts and lack of proper actions from the government.
With the dramatic increase in populations throughout the African continent, governments must intensify their efforts to prevent child marriage now more than ever. Data indicates that although child marriages are declining in Africa, the rate is still significant. Child marriage must be abolished in order to enhance maternal and fetal health and give millions of adolescent girls the opportunity to reach their full capacity.