Child marriage, defined as a formal marriage or informal union before age 18, is a reality for both boys and girls; however girls are disproportionately the most affected.
Globally nearly one in three girls are married before the age of 18, and one in seven is married before the age of 15. An estimated 10 million child marriages occur every year.
The extent of early marriage varies between countries and regions: the highest rates are found in West Africa, followed by southern Asia, northern Africa/the Middle East and Latin America.
However, given southern Asia’s population size and rates of early marriage.
The effects and consequences are vast – early marriage leads to early pregnancy which increases the risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
The increased risk of death or serious lasting complications such as obstetric fistula is greater for girls in early and middle adolescence.
Early marriage perpetuates the cycle of illiteracy and poverty. Around the world, more girls are enrolled in school than ever before. These girls are much less likely to be married at an early age, however, sadly, school enrollment drops sharply after five or six years of schooling.
Child marriage often results in girls leaving school, reducing their opportunity to learn and to gain skills that would enable them to start an income generating activity or to find a job.
Importantly child marriage often results in separation from family and social networks. It reduces the girls’ possibility to obtain practical and emotional support and to participate in community activities with important consequences for their sense of well-being.
Poor families may see marriage as a means of reducing their economic burden- in some places, economic gains such as a bride price (dowry) provide them with an incentive to marry their daughters early. In some parts of the world, girls are expected to marry and start having children in early adolescence.