Child marriage continues to be a common practice around the globe, particularly in rural areas and within communities and families with no viable economic opportunities. In South Asia 48 percent, nearly 10 million, of girls are married before the age of 18. In Africa, 42 percent of girls become child brides. And in Latin America and the Caribbean, 29 percent of girls are married off before the age of 18. The country of Niger has the highest single rate of child marriage with more than 76 percent of girls becoming child brides.
Not only do many girls marry while they are still children, but these girls often marry men who are considerably older. The vast majority of married adolescent girls do not choose their husbands. Most are informed of the marriage at the last moment, some not until the day of the event.
All societies need to protect children. Stopping child marriage, said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "is not just for moral or human rights reasons – it lays the foundation for so many other things we hope to achieve: Primary education; improved child and maternal health; sustainable economic development that includes girls."
Child marriage is both a consequence and a cause of poverty. Sometimes girls are sold into marriage to resolve a debt. Once married, child brides often lack status and power within their marriages and households. Their youth leaves them more vulnerable to domestic violence, marital rape, and other sexual abuse. Mortality rates for babies born to mothers under age 20 are almost 75 percent higher than for children born to older mothers. On average, child brides become less healthy and their children grow up less healthy and poor, especially if they do not have access to educational or economic opportunities.
The United States is working to turn the tide on the abusive practice of child marriage by reaching out to women, girls, fathers, brothers, and religious leaders who can help convince societies that this tradition should end and by raising the value of girls in their communities.
The United States believes that girls and women everywhere should have the right to decide when and whom to marry. Only then can they reach their full economic, social, educational and political potential.