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Child marriage down 15% over last decade, with big drop in India

Child marriage in India
Photo by UNICEF/UN062021/Vishwanathan

The number of women around the world who were married as children has dropped 15% in the last decade, according to new data from UNICEF. The group says if rates hadn't been lowered, 25 million more child marriages would have taken place.

Why it matters: An estimated 650 million women alive today were married as children, with the current rate down to about 12 million child marriages a year. But despite progress being made against the practice — which has been linked to sex trafficking, teenage pregnancy and domestic abuse — the UN's goal of eliminating child marriage by 2030 is far off.

In South Asia, the rate of child marriage has fallen from an astounding 50% down to about 30%, in large part thanks to increased access to girls' education and strong public messaging in India.

  • The NY Times reported on this trend in the rural Indian state of Bihar, where 69% of women surveyed in 2005 said they were married as children.
  • Indian lawmakers criminalized child marriage in 2006, but enforcement remains a challenge — especially in areas where families believe it can "shield [children] from unwelcome sexual advances and consolidate families’ status in a community."
  • A review of census data revealed another disturbing trend: "In pockets of India, incidents of child marriage are decreasing in rural areas, but increasing in urban settings," possibly because people are relocating to cities.