More than 20000 underage girls 'married every day'
More than 20,000 underage girls are married every day, new figures have revealed, prompting urgent calls for authorities to protect the children.
Research by the Save the Children charity and the World Bank found that even in countries where there are laws restricting the practice, around 7.5 million girls are married illegally ever year.
A further 100 million girls worldwide are not protected against child marriage under their country's laws, putting them at even greater risk, the study found.
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One girl under 15 is married every seven seconds
On the International Day of The Girl Child, both Save the Children and the World Bank called for every country to make 18-years-old, the legal age f or marriage.
They said the disconnect between national, customary and religious laws helped to facilitate child marriages. Traditions and beliefs mean that community leaders still supported the practice too often, they added.
Legal action was urgently needed to bring an end to the practice, along with implementing strategies that could help to shift attitudes to child marriage on both a local and national level.
Many of the countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in Central and West Africa, where 1.7 million girls below the national minimum age limits are married each year.
Simona Sikimic-French, who has been working in Senegal with young girls that were forced into marriage, told The Independent: âWhen youâre married off at such a young age the impact is huge. As soon as you're married you have to drop out of school. If you drop out of school aged 12 or 13 you just donât really have any options.
âThe younger you are the worse it is for your mental and physical health. If you have a baby younger, you risk a whole host of complications and issues which are difficult to fix. Often the babies also tend to be less healthy."
Ms Sikimi- French added that child marriage as caused a "huge spiral" of damage both to girls' lives and to the communities they live in.
âIf youâre traumatising girls at such a young age, depriving them of education and forcing them to have large number of children, then obviously thatâs going to have a detrimental effect for everyone," she said.
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Director of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns at Save the Children Kirsty McNeill said: âWe will not see a world where girls and boys have the same opportunities to succeed in life until we eradicate child marriage.
âLaws banning the practice are an important first step. But millions of vulnerable girls will continue to be at risk unless child marriage is tackled head on. We need to change attitudes in communities so that we can end this harmful practice once and for all."
She added: âThe longer a girl stays in education, the more likely it is that she grows up healthy, secures a livelihood and has healthy and educated children of her o wn.â
The revelations came ahead of a conference on bringing an end to child marriage in Senegal later this month.
Sie Koroma, Sierra Leone's first lady, said she hoped the meeting will bring greater understanding of what drives the practice and what can be done to stop it.
"We intend to build a platform where we will be sharing our successes and challenges in the implementations of policies and programmes in ending child marriage,â she said.
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