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African Union Promises to Stop Child Marriage

A 15-year-old pregnant girl holds hands with her 20-year-old husband-to-be in Mozambique, Nov. 18, 2015. (AP)

A 15-year-old pregnant girl holds hands with her 20-year-old husband-to-be in Mozambique, Nov. 18, 2015. (AP)

The number of girls married in Africa is expected to double in the next 35 years, experts say.

That means almost half, or 310 million girls, by 2050 will be married before they reach adulthood, says a United Nations report.

The African Union says it wants to end child marriage in Africa. Delegates at a summit in Zambia are expected to set 18 years old as the lowest legal age for marriage across the continent.

Marriage before age 18 is already against the law in most African countries. Yet the UN says more 125 million African women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday. Experts say most were given to men in traditional or religious unions in violation of the law.

Most child marriages involve girls, statistics show. Some boys ages 17 and younger do get married, but examples are rare.

African Union chairwoman Nkosozana Dlamini Zuma says local culture that undervalues girls and women is to blame. Poverty and lack of education are also responsible, experts say.

Cornelius Williams is associate director of child protection at UNICEF. He says studies show child marriage can be deadly.

Child brides are less likely to finish school, he explains. They are more likely to become victims of violence. And, they are more likely to become teenage mothers, with a high risk of their children being stillborn.

The best way to prevent child marriage is to enforce and improve educational options for girls, he says. That will change opinions about the role of girls in society.

Enforcing the ban on marriage for girls younger than 18, he says, is necessary. So is educating parents.

He says he could not think of his 16-year-old daughter marrying in the next two years.

He says he wants his daughter to be able to determine her life path. He wants her to be able to determine whom she marries, what she wants to do with her life in terms of her profession -- in terms of any choices she wants to make.

Cornelius Williams says, “I wish that for all girls in Africa.”

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

VOA’s Anita Powell reported on this story for George Grow adapted her report for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

bride – n. a women who just married or who plans to be married

role – n. position, the part that someone or something has in an activity or situation

conceive – v. to think of or to create something in one’s mind

determine – v. to decide something; to be the cause of something

profession – n. a job that requires special education or training

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