Child Marriage Around the World

Around the world, as many as 13.5 million girls each year marry before the age of 18, according to estimates from the development organization World Vision. Many become wives against their will. And whether or not they have any say in the matter, child brides often drop out of school and give birth early, putting their own health and their children’s health at risk.

A group called The Elders, led by Nelson Mandela, is calling on governments and development organizations to end child marriage by 2030. In March, President Obama signed a bill that names child marriage a human rights violation and requires the U.S. to develop a strategy to address the practice.

Still, given the widespread nature of the problem, advocates have their work cut out for them.

Child Brides Around the World

Map shows women between 20 and 24 who were married before their 15th birthday.

Researchers say girls who are poor, illiterate and living in rural areas are generally most likely to marry young, although some high-poverty countries have relatively low rates of child marriage. Advocates say that addressing poverty is a key piece of the puzzle.

“The economic realities that many people face don’t disappear simply because there are more stringent laws on the books,” Randal Mason, who works on gender issues at IREX, an international development organization, wrote in an e-mail.

Data: Rural Population (World Bank), Poverty (World Bank), Literacy (UNICEF), Child Marriage (UNICEF)

Even where the age of consent is 16 or 18, girls 15 and younger often wed. Underage brides are often married in religious ceremonies rather than civil ones, leaving them without legal rights.