Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 900 civil society organisations from over 95 countries. This month, they called attention to new data published by UNICEF showing a significant drop in the global number of child marriages.
UNICEF estimates that globally 12 million girls marry each year before they turn 18; this is a drop from their previous estimate of 15 million per year. The number of women alive today who were married as children has also declined from an estimated 720 to 650 million. The proportion of women worldwide aged 20-24 who were first married or in union before age 18 has dropped from about 25% to 21%.
UNICEF estimates that 25 million child marriages were averted over the last decade. This is welcome news but there is much more to be done. The world has committed – through the Sustainable Development Goals – to end child marriage by 2030. However, if progress is not accelerated, 150 million girls will marry as children between now and then.
Progress has been uneven across countries and regions. Particularly notable are sharp decreases in India and Ethiopia. These countries have historically had large numbers of child brides, but they also recognised the negative impact of child marriage early on. More work needs to be done to understand the specific factors that have led to the drop in numbers, and the reasons behind regional and local differences.