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Child Marriage in Fragile States

Photo credit: Stephanie Sinclair/VII/Tooyoungtowed.org

( June 25, 2014, Washington DC, Sri Lanka Guardian) In the next decade, 142 million girls worldwide will get married before they turn 18 if trends continue. In a new Working Paper, CFR Senior Fellow Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes that in fragile states vulnerable to conflict and/or natural disaster, rates of child marriage are especially high. When unmarried girls face increased risks because of natural disasters or conflict, early marriage becomes a more palatable option for parents looking to protect their daughters.

"Child marriage does not cause fragile states, but it does reinforce poverty, limit girls' education, stymie economic progress, and, as a result, contribute to regional instability," Lemmon explains. "In addition, the onset of natural disasters and/or armed conflict limits economic opportunities, weakens social institutions, and increases the chance of sexual violence and assault targeting women and girls."

All but one of the top ten countries with the highest child marriage prevalence rates is on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's list of fragile states. Similarly, three of the ten countries leading the Fund for Peace's Failed States Index have child marriage rates well above 50 percent. The problem will be exacerbated as one-third of the world's poor currently live in fragile states, a number that could climb to half the world's poor by 2018 and nearly two-thirds by 2030.

The relationship between fragile states and high rates of child marriage merits further study, Lemmon writes. Non-governmental organizations such as World Vision, Human Rights Watch, and Mercy Corps have collected most of the research on child marriage in fragile states.

"Governments, multilateral organizations, and relief agencies should prioritize research during and immediately after natural disasters and conflicts to provide hard evidence about the relationship between child marriage and fragility," she insists. "This data will help produce more effective and targeted interventions to assist the youngest and most at-risk members of communities in crisis, and improve the future prospects of all members of the next generation in some of the most challenging corners of the world."

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