More than 20,000 underage girls are married every day, new figures have revealed, prompting urgent calls for authorities to protect the children.
A further 100 million girls worldwide are not protected against child marriage under their country’s laws, putting them at even greater risk, the study found.
On the International Day of The Girl Child, both Save the Children and the World Bank called for every country to make 18-years-old, the legal age for marriage.
They said the disconnect between national, customary and religious laws helped to facilitate child marriages. Traditions and beliefs mean that community leaders still supported the practice too often, they added.
Legal action was urgently needed to bring an end to the practice, along with implementing strategies that could help to shift attitudes to child marriage on both a local and national level.
Many of the countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in Central and West Africa, where 1.7 million girls below the national minimum age limits are married each year.
Simona Sikimic-French, who has been working in Senegal with young girls that were forced into marriage, told The Independent: “When you’re married off at such a young age the impact is huge. As soon as you’re married you have to drop out of school. If you drop out of school aged 12 or 13 you just don’t really have any options.
“The younger you are the worse it is for your mental and physical health. If you have a baby younger, you risk a whole host of complications and issues which are difficult to fix. Often the babies also tend to be less healthy.”
Ms Sikimi- French added that child marriage as caused a “huge spiral” of damage both to girls’ lives and to the communities…