UNICEF has warned that it will take over 100 years to end child marriage in West and Central Africa due to high population growth and prevalence of the practice.
According to a report released by UNICEF, four in 10 women in West and Central Africa are married before the age of 18 and one in three of these are married before the age of 15.
The UN body said six of the 10 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage in the world – Niger, Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea – are in the region.
UNICEF said five countries in the region – Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Togo, Ghana and Rwanda – have seen the practice decline by 40 to 60 per cent over the past 25 years.
Life-altering consequences for millions of child brides will be accompanied by a crippling impact on the region’s prosperity, the report concluded.
UNICEF said even a doubling of the current rate of decline in child marriages would not be sufficient to reduce the number of girls marrying each year.
“We need to shake ourselves up,” said Fatoumata Ndiaye, UNICEF’s deputy executive director.
“We cannot continue to let so many of our girls miss out on their health, education and childhood. At current rates, our report shows, it will take over 100 years to eliminate child marriage in the region: how is this acceptable?”
The report comes as a meeting on how to end child marriage is being held between experts in the Senegalese capital Dakar on Thursday.