Globally, the staggering number of child brides is estimated at 650 million, encompassing girls below 18 years who are currently married and women who married during childhood. While South Asia remains a primary hub for child marriages, Sub-Saharan Africa ranks second with around 115 million women married or in union under 18 years, constituting 18% of this population. An alarming 12 million girls are married in childhood each year, as per UNFPA – UNICEF data.
Africa holds the world’s highest prevalence of child marriage before 15 years, exemplified by Niger’s rate of girls married before 18 years reaching 77% in 2019. This disconcerting trend continues in the Central African Republic at 68%, followed by Chad at 67%. Nigeria, estimated to have the highest number of child brides in Africa with around 22 million, is deeply affected by this issue.
Against this backdrop, the African Union launched the Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa (AU CECM) in 2014, providing a continental model that advocates for multi-sectoral coordination, legislative reforms, and targeted investments to halt child marriage. The AU’s Specialized Technical Committee on Social Development, Labour and Employment, in 2017, urged member states to operationalize an AU high-level Monitoring and Follow-up Mechanism for evaluating progress in ending child marriage. The Peace and Security Council of the AU, in 2018, emphasized the need for comprehensive, multi-stakeholder approaches involving government, community leaders, and various stakeholders to address this challenge.
Despite the adoption of the Campaign by numerous member states and adherence to international commitments, obstacles persist in eliminating harmful practices and gender inequality in Africa. The African Union Commission recognizes child marriage as a human rights violation driven by social norms, traditions, and beliefs. Collaborations with global, continental, and regional partners, such as the Spotlight Initiative, underline the AU’s commitment to transformative change. Initiatives like the African Girls Can Code Initiative further demonstrate the AU’s dedication to empowering girls and women in Africa. Through a multi-faceted approach, the African Union Commission is steadfastly working towards the elimination of child marriage and its adverse impact.