Child Marriage is defined as a marriage of a girl or boy before the age of 18 and refers to both formal marriages and informal unions in which children under the age of 18 live with a partner as if married. Child marriage affects both girls and boys, but it affects girls disproportionately, especially in South Asia.
South Asia has the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Almost half (45%) of all women aged 20-24 years reported being married before the age of 18. Almost one in five girls (17%) are married before the age of 15.
Child marriage violates children’s rights and places them at high risk of violence, exploitation, and abuse. India has the largest number of brides in the world – one-third of the global total. Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage in Asia (the fourth-highest rate in the world). Nepal has also one of the highest rates of child marriage in Asia for both boys and girls.
Child marriage is declining (63% in 1985 to 45%t in 2010) in South Asia, with the decline being especially marked for girls under 15 (32% in 1985 to 17% in 2010). The marriage of girls aged 15-18 is however still commonplace, so more efforts are needed to protect older adolescents from marriage.
Child marriage is the result of the interplay of economic and social forces. In communities where the practice is prevalent, marrying a girl as a child is part of a cluster of social norms and attitudes that reflect the low value accorded to the human rights of girls.
UNICEF’s approach to ending child marriage in South Asia recognizes the complex nature of the problem, and the socio-cultural and structural factors underpinning the practice.