Child marriage among girls is most common in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and India is among the top 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage, UNICEF said in a report titled "Ending Child Marriage - Progress and prospects."
"South Asia is home to almost half (42 per cent) of all child brides worldwide; India alone accounts for one third of the global total," the report said. Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children or before their 18th birthday. More than one in three - about 250 million - entered into union before age 15, the report said.
The 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are Niger, Bangladesh, Chad, Mali, Central African Republic, India, Guinea, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Nepal respectively.
In India, about 27 per cent of women aged 20 to 49 years were married before age 15. About 31 per cent of women in that age group were married after age 15 but before they turned 18. The report added that in India, the median age at first marriage is 19. 7 years for women in the richest quintile compared to 15.4 for the poorest women.
In the Dominican Republic and India, the wealthiest women marry about four years later than the poorest women. UNICEF said that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child marriage are the two practices that affect millions of girls across the globe. It said while prevalence has decreased slightly over the past three decades, rates of progress need to be scaled up dramatically to offset population growth in the countries where the practices are most common.
"Female genital mutilation and child marriage profoundly and permanently harm girls, denying them their right to make their own decisions and to reach their full potential." "They are detriments to the girls themselves, their families, and their societies," UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said.
"Girls are not property; they have the right to determine their destiny. When they do so, everyone benefits."