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Jun. 15 (GIN) - On the Day of the African Child – June 16 - the African Union estimated that 58 million young women in developing countries will  have been married off before their 18th birthday.

At the present trend, by 2020, 143 million girls would be married before age 18, an average of 14.2 million girls every single year.

In South Africa, child marriages are often carried out through the practice of 'ukuthwala' - the wrongful and usually forcible, kidnapping girl children from their homes for the purpose of being married to older men against their will.

This is prevalent largely in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape.

Graca Machel, chair of the Graca Machel Trust which advocates for women's and children's rights, and Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern & Southern Africa, published a piece this week on the topic in Huffington Post.

“Twenty-five years ago, advocates successfully galvanized African leaders behind the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. The Charter revisited most ideals articulated in the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), though went a step further and boldly committed to protecting children from harmful cultural and social practices. Article 21 explicitly refers to protecting Africa's children against child marriages, betrothal and urging countries to push the minimum age of marriage to 18 years,” they wrote.

“Today, as Africa simultaneously commemorates the Day of the African Child and the 25th anniversary of the Charter, we have a rare opportunity to reflect on both progress and challenges in responding to child marriages in Africa.

“We see a continent that has made huge strides in protecting its children. Specifically, the African Union's recent campaign on child marriage has been essential for refocusing regional attention on the issue.

“Africa's voice on child marriages has been escalated, and there is a mounting global movement of more than 400 civil society organizations working against early marriage, while a recent resolution on ending child marriage adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council shows growing global momentum around the topic.

“Still, the practice remains rampant. Africa has the second highest rate of child marriage in the world after South Asia. Reports show that 39 percent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa are married before their 18th birthdays. That's more than one in three girls. Globally, every year, 15 million girls are married before they turn 18, and it is estimated that between 2011 and 2020 more than 140 million girls will become child brides.

“Child marriage is a complex and multifaceted challenge, often urged on by economic, social and cultural factors. The 2015 Day of the African Child will be observed under the theme "25 Years after the Adoption of the African Children's Charter: Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa".

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