Cases of child marriage across Africa have risen significantly over the last decade with highest numbers recorded in the West and Central regions.

It is a situation that the United Nations wants addressed, but there are fears that some prevailing circumstances are fueling the practice.

UNICEF has warned that it will take over 100 years to end the practice in West and Central Africa due to the high population growth and sadly, wide acceptance as a norm.

According to a report released by UNICEF, 4 in 10 women in West and Central Africa are married before the age of 18 and 1 in 3 of these are married before the age of 15.

The UN body said 6 of the 10 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage in the world – Niger, Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea – are in these regions.

UNICEF said 5 countries in the regions – Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Togo, Ghana and Rwanda – have seen the practice decline by 40 to 60 per cent over the past 25 years.

"Life-altering consequences for millions of child brides will be accompanied by a crippling impact on the region’s prosperity", the report concluded.

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UNICEF said even a doubling of the current rate of decline in child marriages would not be sufficient to reduce the number of girls marrying each year.

“We need to shake ourselves up,” UNICEF’s deputy executive director, Fatoumata Ndiaye, said.

“We cannot continue to let so many of our girls miss out on their health, education and childhood. At current rates, our report shows, it will take over 100 years to eliminate child marriage in the region: How is this acceptable?”

The report comes ahead of a meeting that will hold in the Senegalese capital, Dakar on Thursday on how to end the abusive trend.

In Nigeria, child marriage is mostly practiced in the north and the government has said it is committed to reducing the burden. 

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