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Unicef's Geeta Athreya
"It is a violation of human rights"
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The BBC's Claire Doole in Geneva
"Child brides run the higest risk of dying during or after childbirth"
 real 28k

Geeta Athreya, Unicef in Delhi
"The child has no say in what happens in her life"
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Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 14:09 GMT
Child marriage 'violates rights'
Girls in Pakistan reading
Early marriage deprives children of an education, says Unicef
The United Nations Children's Fund has demanded an end to child marriages which, it says, condemn millions of young girls to a life of misery and pain.

Unicef says the practice inflicts a tremendous physical and emotional toll on young women.

This is another end the silent despair of millions of children...who are being shuttered away in lives often full of misery and pain

Carol Bellamy, Unicef director
In a report issued on the eve of International Women's Day, Unicef says half of all girls in some countries are married by the age of 18 because of poverty, tradition and family pressure.

Young brides tend to be pulled out of school, depriving them of their basic right to education, and early marriage almost always means premature pregnancy with added health risks.

Rights violated

"Forcing children, especially girls into early marriages, can be physically and emotionally harmful," Unicef executive director Carol Bellamy said.

"It violates their rights to personal freedom and growth."

Girls in Chad
Young girls are often seen as an economic burden and married off
Child marriages are most common in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where poverty, traditional taboos about pre-marital sex, and fears of Aids are widespread.

Parents may feel that marrying off a daughter at a young age can help them economically, while also keeping the girl "safe" from unwanted sexual advances, the report said.

There is also the false belief in many countries that a man can be cured of Aids by sleeping with a virgin.

Girls married young
Democratic Republic of Congo 74%
Afghanistan 54%
Bangladesh 51%
The extreme cases of child marriages include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, where many girls are married before 18.

In Nepal, 7% of girls are married before they are 10, and 40% by age 15.

In Egypt, studies show that 29% of young brides have been beaten by their husband or other relatives.

Domestic violence often causes girls to run away, and in several countries this can trigger "honour killings" by male relatives eager to wipe out a perceived disgrace to the family.

Unicef says early marriage constitutes a violation of a girl's human rights, primarily because it can deprive her of the right to give full and free consent to marry.

Woman and child in Kenya
Early marriage can trap women in poverty
Pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of mortality for girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide. While this is often linked to poor health care, the risks are increased by the physical immaturity of the girls, the report said.

Unicef is calling on governments and local groups to discourage child marriages by educating parents and young people about the implications.

It is also advocating national campaigns to raise the legal age of marriage.

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29 Apr 98 | Despatches
Child brides marry in Rajasthan
20 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
China to execute bride traffickers
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