More than an estimated 22,000 girls a year are dying from pregnancy and childbirth resulting from child marriage, new analysis from Save the Children released on International Day of the Girl reveals.
South Asia sees 2,000 child marriage-related deaths every year (or six every day), followed by East Asia and the Pacific with 650 deaths (or two every day), and Latin American and the Caribbean, with 560 annual deaths (or nearly two a day).
However, West and Central Africa has the highest rate of child marriage in the world and accounts for nearly half (9,600) of all estimated child marriage-related deaths globally, or 26 deaths a day. The regional teenage maternal mortality rate is four times higher than anywhere else in the world.
Although nearly 80 million child marriages globally have been prevented in the last 25 years, progress had stalled even before the COVID-19 pandemic—which has only worsened inequalities that drive child marriage. With school closures, health services under strain or closed, and more families being pushed into poverty, women and girls face an increased risk of violence during lengthy lockdowns. A further 10 million girls are now expected to marry by 2030, leaving more girls at risk of dying.
Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International, said: “Child marriage is one of the worst and deadliest forms of sexual and gender-based violence against girls. Every year, millions are forced into wedlock with men who are often much older, robbing them of an opportunity to keep learning, be children, and in many cases, to survive.
“Childbirth is the number one killer of teenage girls because their young bodies aren’t ready to bear children. The health risks of children having children cannot, and must not, be ignored. Governments must prioritise girls and ensure they’re protected from child marriage and premature childbirth-related deaths. This can only happen if girls have a say in the decisions that affect them.”
Even in countries where child marriage is illegal, exceptions are common and the practice is still widespread, including in Burkina Faso—which has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Sudarshan, CEO, Save the Children, India said: “We at Save the Children India; Bal Raksha Bharat would like to see Child Marriage confined to museums and history. It is our collective failure that even in this century such a crime against humanity is prevalent and perpetuated. All those who are not a part of the solution should consider themselves a part of the problem. To deny children and more specifically the girl children their basic right to learn, and enjoy a happy and carefree childhood is a human rights violation and needs to be condemned. It should not be dismissed as a cultural element and instead seen as a denial of basic right to life and liberty. Besides violating their right to development, it also an impediment to their right to protection and survival, subjecting them to sexual abuse and adverse health conditions and even death due to premature child birth. Child marriage symbolises gender inequality at its worst. By denying development, expression and just treatment to young girls, we are denying a better and sustainable future to the human race.”