As the population of Africa grows in the next few years, one of the issues that the UN, the African Union and other NGOs are worried about is the rise in the number of child brides (girls married before the age of 18). At the moment there are an estimated 125 million women who were married before the age of 18. By 2050, the UN’s agency for children, UNICEF, is concerned that this could rise to 310 million, mainly as a result of Africa’s increasing population. If this is correct, then Africa will take over from South Asia as the area of the world where child brides are most common.

These figures have come out on the eve of the African Union Girls’ Summit in Lusaka, Zambia and after a period of action by the African Union trying to end the practice.

With a female chairman, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, taking the helm of the African Union, there has been some recent progress. The summit follows a campaign the body launched last year against the practice, prompting countries including Mozambique, Uganda and Egypt to put in place national strategies to clamp down on it.

Lakshmi Sundaram, the executive director of charity Girls Not Brides, said the taboo around discussing the issue was gradually lifting.

‘Talking about child marriage is no longer taboo, and there is much greater recognition of the damage it has wreaked on generations of girls, their families and communities,’ she said.”

The damage cited includes the fact that the pregnancy and childbirth are the second most common cause of death for girls under the age of 18 and that the children of child brides are “much less likely to reach their first birthday than those born to women in their 20s”. Campaigners hope to pressure countries to ban the practice throughout the continent, increasing girls’ access to education and ensuring that female babies have accurate birth certificates.

Currently the largest amount of child brides in Africa are in Nigeria, with 23 million girls and women who were married in childhood. Chad and Central African Republic have the highest rates of child marriage today but apparently this is generally not for cultural reasons but because families marry their children off due to financial pressure. Thus it seems as if increasing the continent’s financial strength and ending things that get in the way of economic growth (in particular war) in Africa would be the best way to combat growing numbers of child brides.

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...