03/10/2015 11:54 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2015

We Know How To End Child Marriage, Now Let's Scale Those Efforts: UN

Noriyuki Araki via Getty Images

By Lisa Anderson

UNITED NATIONS, March 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A dvocates against child marriage need to step up efforts to maintain progress against the practice as the world's youth population swells, experts at a United Nations panel said on Tuesday.

Child marriage, which ensnares about 10 million girls under the age of 18 every year, is banned in 88 percent of countries, but the practice persists in many parts of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Awareness of the problem has grown in recent years, as has knowledge about the best strategies to combat it, but the new challenge is to scale up the effort, said Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF's deputy executive director.

"We must aim to effect the lives of not a few hundred or a few thousand but millions of girls," she said at a panel on the second day of the two-week-long U.N. 59th Commission on the Status of Women.

With the world population of people aged 10 to 24 at a historic 1.8 billion, efforts to end early marriage must be boosted to avoid losing ground where progress has been made, experts said.

One tool in that fight is to ensure that eradicating child marriage is confirmed as a target of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) expected to be adopted by the U.N. in September, Gupta said.

Currently, ending child marriage is listed as a target under the fifth point in the proposed SDGs that calls for achieving gender equity and empowering women and girls.

In the next few months, she said, "we need to make sure we seal the deal."

Providing a reliable barometer of the scope of child marriage, UNICEF tracks the number of women in 118 countries, between the ages of 20 and 24, whose first marriage occurred before they turned 18.

It estimates that more than 700 million women alive today were married as children, including about 250 million married before the age of 15.

Activists know that keeping girls in secondary school, providing cash transfers to parents as incentives against marrying their girls off, and working with community and religious leaders are some of the most effective ways of preventing child marriage.

But evidence shows nothing works in every case, said Francoise Girard, president of the International Women's Health Coalition. "That means there is not a single silver bullet that will prevent and stop child marrriage."

Instead, advocates must focus on addressing unequal gender norms that are the root causes of child marriage, and invest in raising the value of girls, she said.

Conflict also contributes to child marriage, as can be seen among Syrian refugees, said Salam Kanaan, Jordan country director for the humanitarian organization CARE.

Marriage of underage Syrian girls is on the rise in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and other countries in the region, she said, as refugee parents seek to protect their daughters from sexual violence and ease the economic burden on the family.

(Reporting by Lisa Anderson, Editing by Alisa Tang)


  • 50 Bahrain
    Tim Graham via Getty Images
    The lifetime risk of maternal death in Bahrain is 1 in 1,800.
  • 49 Barbados
    Christopher Kimmel via Getty Images
    Women make up 21.6 percent of the national government in Barbados.
  • 48 Bosnia and Herzegovina
    Walter Bibikow via Getty Images
    The gross national income per person in Bosnia and Herzegovina is $4,750.
  • 47 Chile
    Juanpablo San Martín via Getty Images
    Chile has moved up four spots, from 51st in 2013.
  • 46 Slovakia
    Alexandra Jursova via Getty Images
    The lifetime risk of maternal death in Slovakia is 1 in 12,200.
  • 45 Montenegro
    Witold Skrypczak via Getty Images
    Women hold 14 percent of the seats in Montenegro's national government.
  • 44 Bulgaria
    Anna Pekunova via Getty Images
    Children receive an average of 14 years of formal schooling in Bulgaria.
  • 43 Argentina
    Deux via Getty Images
    Argentina has moved up one place this year, from 43 in 2013 to 42 in 2014.
  • 42 Grenada
    Philip and Karen Smith via Getty Images
    Women hold 25 percent of the seats in Grenada's national government.
  • 41 Malta
    Aron Mifsud Bonnici via Getty Images
    The lifetime risk of maternal death in Malta is 1 in 8,900.
  • 40 Macedonia
    Nikolaos Machairas via Getty Images
    Nearly 13 years of formal schooling is expected in Macedonia.
  • 39 Costa Rica
    UniversalImagesGroup via Getty Images
    There is a 0.4 percent maternal mortality rate in Costa Rica.
  • 38 Saudi Arabia
    arabianEye via Getty Images
    The average gross national income per person in Saudi Arabia is $21,210.
  • 37 Cyprus
    Juergen Richter via Getty Images
    Of all entries on this list, Cyprus has fallen furthest from their highest spot.
  • 36 Serbia
    Edward Carlile Portraits via Getty Images
    There is a 1 in 4,900 lifetime maternal death risk in Serbia.
  • 35 Cuba
    Women hold nearly 49 percent of seats in Cuba's national government.
  • 34 Latvia
    TatyanaTitova via Getty Images
    Women hold 25 percent of seats in Latvia's national government.
  • 33 Croatia
    Jan Greune via Getty Images
    Croatian women have a 1 in 4,100 lifetime risk of maternal death.
  • 32 Japan
    Ryultsuki via Getty Images
    The gross national income per person in Japan is $47,880.
  • 31 United States
    Jordan Siemens via Getty Images
    Surprisingly, the U.S. has made very little progress since 2000 in terms of maternal care. The risk of maternal death has actually risen by a rapid pace, going from from 1 in 3,700 to 1 in 2,400.

    A woman giving birth in the United States is now at the same maternal death risk as a woman giving birth in Iran or Romania.
  • 30 Republic of Korea
    Alex Barlow via Getty Images
    There is a 1 in 4,800 maternal death risk in Korea.
  • 29 Poland
    Witold Skrypczak via Getty Images
    There is only a 1 in 14,000 risk of maternal death in Poland.
  • 28 Israel
    Dan Porges via Getty Images
    More than 22 percent of the Israeli government is comprised of women.
  • 27 United Kingdom
    Xavier Arnau via Getty Images
    The UK has dropped three places, from 23rd place in 2013 to 26th place in 2014.
  • 26 Belarus
    VIKTOR DRACHEV via Getty Images
    Mothers have only a 1 in 16,300 risk of maternal death in Belarus.
  • 25 Lithuania
    lina aidukaite via Getty Images
    Lithuania has jumped two spots on this list, from 26th place in 2013 to 24th place this year.
  • 24 Czech Republic
    sola deo gloria via Getty Images
    Women make up 18.9 percent of the national Czech government.
  • 23 Estonia
    Women in Estonia only have a 1 in 25,100 risk of maternal death.
  • 22 Luxembourg
    The gross national income per capita in Luxembourg is $71,620.
  • 21 Greece
    SAKIS MITROLIDIS via Getty Images
    More than 20 percent of the Greek government is comprised by women.