About 115 million boys were married off as children, with one in five wed before they turned 15, according to the first United Nations study to track the prevalence of child grooms.
The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, analyzed marriage and population data across 82 countries and found the Central African Republic had the highest prevalence of child grooms married before the age of 18, at 28 per cent, followed by Nicaragua at 19 per cent and Madagascar with 13 per cent.
UNICEF said children who married young tended to leave school, have limited economic opportunities, and be more vulnerable to abuse and mental health problems than those who married later.
“Marriage steals childhood,” the charity’s executive director, Henrietta Fore, said in a statement as the report was released on Friday.
“Child grooms are forced to take on adult responsibilities for which they may not be ready. Early marriage brings early fatherhood, and with it added pressure to provide for a family, cutting short education and job opportunities.”
UNICEF said these figures mean there are now 765 million married boys and girls among the 2.2 billion children globally. However, girls are still more likely to wed young, which puts them at risk of health issues related to teen pregnancy.
Globally, about one in every five women aged 20 to 24 were married before their 18th birthday, compared to one in 30 men, UNICEF said.
If all girls finished secondary school, more than 50 million child marriages could be prevented by 2030, children’s charity Save the Children said in an October report.
The United Nations has said all countries should end child marriage by 2030 as agreed in the global development goals in 2015.
Almost all countries have a minimum marriage age of 18, but children can still legally wed in places like the United States if they have parental consent or through religious ceremonies, according to data research group WORLD Policy Analysis Center.