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UN Population Fund says problem of child marriage is ignored

UN Population Fund says problem of child marriage is ignored

More than 100 million girls over the next decade will marry before their 18th birthday, including many aged as young as eight or nine, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) warned today at an international meeting in Washington on youth health.

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, told the annual conference of the Global Health Council, host of the meeting Youth and Health: Generation on the Edge, that the issue of child marriage has been neglected in the global agenda.

“Married adolescents have been largely ignored in the development and health agenda because of the perception that their married status ensures them a safe passage to adulthood,” she said, adding “nothing could be further from the truth.”

Ms. Obaid called for more initiatives to combat the incidence of child marriage, citing its deleterious effects on the health, education and social, economic and political growth of girls. She noted that child marriage is particularly entrenched culturally in many nations.

The UNFPA chief said the root causes of child marriage, such as poverty, discrimination against girls and the lack of education for girls, must be tackled. Paid jobs give girls “a degree of autonomy, mobility and freedom from traditional gender roles.”

She called for public awareness campaigns in countries with a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, alerting girls of the increased infection risk resulting from marrying much older men.