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Child Bride Increase in Africa Linked to Abuse, Health Risks

The United Nations is warning that millions more young girls are destined to become child brides, adding that if current trends hold many will be under the age of 15.

The marrying off of young girls is a culturally sensitive issue, and one that draws a range of reactions from different countries and communities.

Critics argue it is fraught with danger, damage and discrimination – a violation of human rights.

And the U.N. is worried, predicting that 140 million girls will become child brides between 2011 and 2020. That is more than 14 million girls a year it says will marry too young – approximately 39,000 each day.

Furthermore, it is warning that of these, 50 million will be under the age of 15.

The U.N. has identified 42 countries where one in three children under the age of 18 are married.

Statistics gathered over the last decade found that in both proportions and numbers, most child marriages take place in rural sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Niger has the highest rate, with 75 percent of girls marrying before the age of 18, and Bangladesh is ranked the highest in Asia, at 66 percent.

Moving down the list, more African countries feature prominently, such as Mali with 55 percent and Burkina Faso with 48 percent.

Morocco is one of the countries where child marriage is on the increase.

The latest figures show the number of young girls getting married there rose to 35,000 in 2010, up from 30,000 just two years before.

Rights groups are calling for a total ban on the practice, and the government looks set to bow to pressure to change a law that permits men accused of raping minors to escape punishment by marrying their young victims.

Research suggests girls who get married when they are young are at greater risk from violence and health problems.

The International Centre for Research on Women says girls who are younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties. Pregnancy is now the leading cause of death for women ages 15-19 in the developing world.

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