Related to Target 2 of the fifth SDG, the UN lists Target 3 for gender equality as eliminating all harmful practices, such as child, early, and forced marriage and female genital mutilation, two of the key forms of gender-based violence.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has reversed progress on decreasing child marriage rates. The increase in poverty levels in the wake of COVID-related lockdowns has left many parents unable to care for all of their children. Many therefore turn to marrying off their teenage daughters so that they can be provided for by their husband and his family. This may seem like a solution, but it can leave girls vulnerable to a lifetime of suffering, including losing out on their education and facing domestic violence at home. Young girls are also more likely to die due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth if they become pregnant before their body has fully developed.
UNICEF estimates that 21% of married women aged 20-24 years were wed before their 18th birthday, many as young as 14 (or even younger). Each year, 12 million girls go to the altar before they’re legally adults, and a total of 650 million women and girls today were married as children. Many of these marriages happen in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Niger, the Central African Republic, and Chad.
The good news is that progress can be made. In the last decade, 25 million child marriages were prevented, many in South Asia thanks to legislation and community engagement.