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Choosing between a daughter and her dowry
03:01 - Source: CNN

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UNICEF releases estimates that child marriages are falling

While they're declining in South Asia, shift is to sub-Saharan Africa

CNN  — 

Child marriages are declining, with the largest drop in South Asia, according to UNICEF.

Ten years ago, a South Asian girl’s risk of getting married as a child was about 50%, but now that has fallen to about 30%. A UNICEF release Tuesday attributed the progress in India to increasing rates of girls’ education, government investments and public messaging around the illegality of child marriage.

“Any reduction is welcome news, but we’ve got a long way to go,” said Anju Malhotra, UNICEF’s principal gender adviser.

Even with the declines, 12 million girls are married in childhood every year, according to UNICEF.

Globally, one in five women are married before they turn 18 years old. A decade ago, the rate had been one in four, UNICEF said Tuesday.

“While South Asia has led the way on reducing child marriage over the last decade, the global burden of child marriage is shifting to sub-Saharan Africa,” according to UNICEF.

One in three recently married child brides are now in sub-Saharan Africa, compared to one in five a decade ago.

Poverty, ideas of family honor, social norms, customs and religious laws are factors that could force girls into child marriages.

But the consequences can be devastating. Marriages can rob girls of their childhood, compromise their development and put them at risk of early and complicated pregnancies. They often pay a heavy price in not getting an education or access to proper health care and economic opportunities.

Child marriages also occur in the US, and remains legal in every state because of a hodgepodge of exceptions that let minors get married with parental consent or judicial approval.