A child bride every 3 seconds
Child marriage, which steals the innocence of millions of girls worldwide, is one of the biggest obstacles to development.
A girl under the age of 18 is married every 3 seconds - that's 10 million each year! This is often without her consent and sometimes to a much older man, according to the children's charity Plan UK. Most of those marriages take place in Africa, the Middle East or South Asia.

"This is one of the biggest development issues of our time and we're committed to raising the voices of millions of girls married against their will," Plan UK head Marie Staunton said.

According to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), there are more than 50 million child brides worldwide, a number that is expected to grow to 100 million over the next decade.

Ripple effect

Girls forced into early marriage rarely continue their education, denying them any hope of independence, the ability to earn a livelihood or of making an economic contribution to their households.

Girls who complete secondary school are 6 times less likely to become child brides than contemporaries with less or no education, according to the ICRW, a Washington-based think tank.

But distance from schools and a lack of school fees often preclude education for the poorest girls, who are twice as likely to marry young as those from wealthier homes.

Where is this taking place?

In Niger, Chad and Mali, more than 70% of girls are married before the age of 18.

Bangladesh, Guinea, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Burkina Faso and Nepal have child marriage rates over 50%.

Ethiopia, Malawi, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Eritrea, Uganda, India, Nicaragua, Zambia and Tanzania are all above 40%.

Why is this happening?

The reasons child marriages occur vary with the country and are rarely simple.

Edmeades, who has been working with aid agency CARE on a project to tackle child marriage in Ethiopia, gave the example of children in that country being betrothed before birth to cement strategic alliances between families.

In other cases, girls are married off early to ensure that their virginity, and thus their economic value as brides, is intact and the honor of the family is protected.

Meanwhile, debts and natural disasters, such as tsunamis and drought, can lead to girls being sold off as brides as families scramble for survival.

Why is this dangerous?

There are many factors why this practice is dangerous for young girls. A few of them are:

•    Narrow pelvises and developing bodies mean these girls are 5 times more likely to die in childbirth.
•    Babies born to mothers younger than 18 are more likely to be underweight or stillborn.
•    There’s an increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS .

While it is a subject still little known and rarely discussed in much of the Western world, the issue of child marriage is drawing greater attention from international aid and humanitarian organizations, as well as governments.

What do you think should be done about child brides and the practice of marrying off underage girls?

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