New York - The number of women married as child brides in Africa could more than double to 310 million by 2050 if current trends continue, Unicef warned on Thursday, calling for accelerated efforts to curb the practice.
In a report, the UN agency found that while the percentage of women married as children has dropped in Africa during recent decades, the rate of reduction is still too slow when combined with the fast pace of population growth projected for the continent.
Currently, 34% of women ages 20-24 living in Africa were married before the age of 18, a decrease from 44% in 1990. Today, there are 125 million African women who were minors when married.
However, with the number of girls on the continent expected to rise from 275 million today to 465 million by 2050, the number of women married as children is projected to reach 310 million, surpassing South Asia as the region with the most child marriages.
Unicef called for stepping up efforts to halt the practice of child marriages, noting that if the current pace of reduction is doubled, the number of child brides can be kept at 150 million by 2050.
"The sheer number of girls affected - and what this means in terms of lost childhoods and shattered futures - underline the urgency of banning the practice of child marriage, once and for all," Unicef executive director Anthony Lake said.
Women married as child brides are at an increased risk of being victims of violence, contracting HIV and dropping out of school.
Young girls married early face higher risks of health complications from childbirth, and their children are more likely to be stillborn or die shortly after birth than those born to older mothers.