The UN on Friday said that by 2020 more than 140 million girls would have become child brides globally if the current marriage rates continue.
It warned that little progress has been made towards ending the harmful practise.
According to the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, of the 140 million girls, 50 million will be under the age of 15.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Osotimehin spoke at a special session on child marriage at the ongoing UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York.
Some of the issues focused on during the session include supporting and enforcing legislation to increase the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18 years.
Others are providing equal access to quality primary and secondary education for girls and boys; mobilising girls, boys, parents and leaders to change practises that discriminate against girls among others.
He said that while 158 countries have set the legal age for marriage at 18 years, laws are rarely enforced since the practise
of marrying young children was upheld by tradition and social norms.
He stated that the practise was most common in rural sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
The UNFPA Executive Director said that currently, 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are Niger, Chad, the Central African Republic, Bangladesh, Guinea, Mozambique, Mali, Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Malawi.
According to him, in terms of absolute numbers and because of the size of its population, India had the highest number of child marriages in 47 per cent of all marriages, stressing that the bride was a child.
Osotimehin explained that young girls who marry before the age of 18 have a greater risk of becoming victims of intimate partner violence than those who marry later.
“Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects.
“A girl who is married as a child is one whose potential will not be fulfilled. Since many parents and communities also want the very best for their daughters, we must work together and end child marriage,’’ he said.
He added that child marriage was increasingly recognised as a violation of the rights of girls as it interferes with their education, blocks their opportunity to gain vocational and life skills, and increases their risk to sexual violence as well as their chances to contract HIV.
“No girl should be robbed of her childhood, her education and health, and her aspirations.