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It may take over 100 years to end child marriage in these regions

Four in 10 women are married before the age of 18 and, of these, one in three before the age of 15.

In a report released on Wednesday, the agency warned that the regions’ rapid growth and high prevalence would make it hard to even double the rate of the current decline, noting that the practice has far-reaching, life-altering consequences for millions of child brides, and a crippling impact on the region’s prosperity.

“We need to shake ourselves up,” UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director Fatoumata Ndiaye said.

“We cannot continue to let so many of our girls miss out on their health, education, and childhood. At current rates, our report shows, it will take over 100 years to eliminate child marriage in the region – how is this acceptable?”

While acknowledging prevalence of child marriage in West and Central Africa has declined over the past two decades, UNICEF added more still need s to be done as the progress has been been uneven.

Niger; Central African Republic; Chad; Mali; Burkina Faso and Guinea make up six of the 10 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage in the world.

The report recommended a raft of measures it believes would go a long way in addressing the child marriage ticking bomb such as empowering girls, mobilizing families and communities to change attitudes and behaviours, providing adequate services to girls at risk and to married girls and putting in place consistent laws and policies to protect and promote the rights of girls.

“Getting girls to schools should be our top priority,” Ndiaye said.

“Not only because it equips girls for life, but it also helps to lift their families, their communities, their countries out of poverty.”

All is not doom though; the six West and Central African countries can learn a thing or two from five countries in the region – Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Togo, Ghana and Rwanda – where child marriage has declined drastically from 40 to 60 per cent over the past 25 years.

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