NEW YORK: There has been a significant drop in the number of child marriages worldwide and India contributed significantly to the global decline in the practice, the UN children's agency Unicef said on Tuesday.
According to the Unicef, 25 million child marriages were prevented in the past decade. South Asia witnessed the largest decline in child marriage worldwide in the last 10 years as a girl's risk of marrying before turning 18 dropped by more than a third, from nearly 50 per cent to 30 per cent, in large part due to progress in India.
"Increasing rates of girls' education, proactive government investments in adolescent girls and strong public messaging around the illegality of child marriage and the harm it causes were among the reasons for the shift," the agency said.
One in five girls are now married before they are 18, compared with one in four a decade ago.
The Unicef said the problem was now "most severe" in Africa but even so, Ethiopia had cut child marriage rates by a third.
Anju Malhotra, Unicef's principal gender adviser, said that given the life-changing impact child marriage had on a girl's life, "any reduction is welcome news -- but we've got a long way to go".
"When a girl is forced to marry as a child she faces immediate and lifelong consequences. Her odds of finishing school decrease while her odds of being abused by her husband and suffering complications during pregnancy increase. There are also huge societal consequences, and higher risk of intergenerational cycles of poverty," she said.
The report said that the burden of child marriage was shifting to sub-Saharan Africa, where more progress was needed to offset population growth. Nearly one in three child marriages were now in sub-Saharan Africa, compared with one in five a decade ago.
World leaders have vowed to end child marriage by 2030 under the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Malhotra said that to meet that target, efforts had to be stepped up "to prevent millions of girls having their childhoods stolen through this devastating practice".
"Each and every child marriage prevented gives another girl the chance to fulfil her potential," she said.