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Five Things You May Not Know About Child Marriage

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NPR's Jennifer Ludden recently traveled to the African nation of Malawi, one of many countries in the developing world where child marriage remains prevalent. She found girls like Christina Asima, who was married at 12 and became a mother at 13. She is now divorced and caring for her infant son on her own. You can read Jennifer's full report here. Below are a few more things she learned while reporting on child marriage.

1. One in 3 girls in the developing world is married by age 18; 1 in 9 by the time she's 15.

The International Center for Research on Women estimates that every year, more than 14 million adolescent and teen girls are married, almost always forced into the arrangement by their parents. The countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in sub-Saharan Africa, but those with the largest number of child brides are in South Asia.

2. The number of child brides is increasing.

ICRW's Suzanne Petroni says for much of the past half-century, the average age of marriage did increase in most countries, but that's stalled out over the past decade. Now, child marriage is most prevalent in countries with the fastest growing populations. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, UNICEF reports that births to girls under 15 are projected to nearly double by 2030. Girls Not Brides shows the child marriage rate of each nation in this map, and also links to local groups working to end the practice.

3. In developing countries, the most common cause of death for girls age 15 to 19 is pregnancy and childbirth.

Child brides are almost always married to older men, and lack the standing or skills to negotiate over sex or birth control. That means many get pregnant soon after marriage, when their bodies are too underdeveloped or too small to handle it. Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s, according to the International Center for Research on Women.

UNICEF finds that the child of a mother under 18 also has a 60-percent greater chance of dying in its first year.

4. Parents often believe that by marrying off a young girl, they are doing what's best for her.

It's true that parents often receive a dowry for marrying off a young daughter. But there are strong links between poverty and child marriage.

In times of drought, when crops fail and families become desperate, rates of child marriage have gone up. In patriarchal cultures, where young girls are often the last ones fed at mealtime, ICRW's Petroni says some parents may feel a daughter's circumstances will improve if she's someone's wife.

In many places, adolescent girls are also at risk of rape, even while walking to school. Parents may offer a daughter's hand in the belief this will help protect her from a sexual assault that could leave her stigmatized in the community and unlikely to be married.

5. Child marriage hurts developing economies.

OK, maybe that's not such a surprise. But the World Bank has calculated the cost of girls dropping out of school — as almost all child brides do — and reducing their future earning power, and the numbers are staggering. It finds billions in lost GDP and productivity for developing nations like India, Brazil and Kenya. And the report notes this does not include the broader social costs when half a nation's population is uneducated.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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