9th March, 2016

Afaid Maiga, 15, is a Malian refugee living in M'bera refugee camp in Mauritania. At the age of 14, her father forced her to marry a men much older than her. Afaid's mother opposed the marriage and filed her case with the M'bera refugee leader who referred her to UNICEF's partner InterSOS. Child protection network and InterSOS intervened and managed to convince the father and Afaid's new husband to break the marriage. Now almost a year since Afaid's marriage has been nulled, she continues to live with her parents in M'bera refugee camp. Occasionally she visits a youth club but she doesn't want to undertake informal education program saying that she wants to help her mother with household chores. PICTURE: © UNICEF/UN05222/Dragaj

Two UN agencies have launched a new multi-country initiative aimed at accelerating action to end child marriage as data shows that if current trends continue, the number of females married as children will reach almost a billion people by 2030.

Unveiled on International Women's Day in New York, the joint UNFPA-UNICEF program is described as part of a global effort to prevent girls from marrying too young and to support those already married in 12 countries across Asia, Africa and the Middle East where child marriage rates are high.

It will focus on measures such as increasing girls' access to education and healthcare services, educating parents on the dangers of child marriage, increasing economic support to families and strengthening and enforcing laws that establish 18 as the minimum age for marriage.

Anthony Lake, UNICEF executive director, said the new program would help drive action to reach the girls at greatest risk. "This is critical now because if current trends continue, the number of girls and women married as children will reach nearly one billion by 2030 - one billion childhoods lost, one billion futures blighted."

The agencies say girls who enter into marriage as a child - which they describe as a "violation of the rights of girls and women" - are more likely to be out of school, suffer domestic violence, contract HIV/AIDS and die due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth. They say child marriage can also lead to intergenerational cycles of poverty.

The initiative has the support of Canada, the EU, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK.

~ www.unicef.org

~ www.unfpa.org

- DAVID ADAMS