14.2 million girls under 18 will be married each year — more than 140 million over the 10-year period, according to advocacy organizations, using figures from the United Nations Population Fund.
Complications from too-early pregnancies and childbirth are the leading causes of death for girls aged 15 to 19, and girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women between the ages of 20 to 24. Girls as young as 5 or 6 may also be victims of forced sex committed by much older men.
South Asia, with India far in the lead globally, has the largest number and highest rate of child marriages as a region; India is followed, in order, by West and Central Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern and Southern Africa. East Asia and the Pacific, the Middle East and North Africa and former Soviet-bloc countries fare the best, with Latin America and the Caribbean in between.
UN agency staff members in the field have seen many cases of forced domestic servitude and abuse of child brides. Nongovernmental groups have also heard terrible stories from girls who have been rescued.
“From the moment a girl is forced into marriage, her life is irreparably altered,” AIDS-Free World said in its account of its interaction with the International Labor Organization. “That one decision, made by other people without her consent, permanently removes all of her fundamental rights as a child — to education, health, rest, leisure, play and recreation, protection from violence, and protection from performing any work that is likely to harm her physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. . . . They will be exploited by their societies; they should not be abandoned by the United Nations.”