One out of every three girls in developing countries is married before the age of 18, and one in nine is married before age 15. In addition to falling victim to early marriage, these girls are typically from rural areas and have little wealth or education. It is estimated that in the next 10 years, about 14 million child marriages will occur each year in developing countries.
On the occasion of the 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, sexual and reproductive health have barely made the agenda despite their importance to unlocking women’s—and the continent’s—potential. In the 50 African countries invited to the Summit to discuss investing in the next generation, roughly one-third of girls are married before age 18. Global advocacy efforts and last month’s Girls’ Summit have brought attention to the issue of child marriage, but few have focused on providing child brides with reproductive and sexual health care. This is particularly true for those under age 15, whose needs are poorly understood due to lack of data.
The African and American leaders gathered this week must place sexual and reproductive health and rights at the forefront of the agenda and address the ramifications of child marriage for girls and for the continent’s future. We challenge these leaders to hear the voices of their female citizens and heed the call to end child marriage and provide women and girls with the health care they need.