Child marriages on the increase, as drought drives families to desperation

Child marriages are on the rise in some parts of Africa, at the same time as droughts ravage sections of the continent across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

This crisis has pushed families to the edge, leaving girls at greater danger of a number of risks, including undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM), and being forced into marriages.

According to United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), girls as young as 12 are being forced into marriages, impeding their right to health care, education and security.

Child brides are also at risk of HIV infections, maternal death and disabilities, including obstetric fistula.

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“We are seeing alarming rates of child marriage and FGM across the Horn of Africa,” said UNICEF’s Regional Child Protection Advisor for eastern and southern Africa, Andy Brooks in a statement.

“With some destitute families arranging to marry off girls as young as twelve to men more than five times their age.”

Child marriages have increased by an average of 119% across regions worst hit by drought. 14 of the 23 counties affected by drought are already FGM hotspots, with rates up to 98%.

Parents marry off their children in order to “secure dowries to help support the rest of the family, to have one less mouth to feed, or in an attempt to help the bride enter a better-off household,” UNICEF wrote.


Drought is seen as a huge factor to the vulnerability of young girls, as child marriage doubled in the space of a year in countries such as Ethiopia.

In the past decade, the Horn of Africa has suffered three severe droughts (2010-2011, 2016-2017 and 2020-2021). The 2010-2011 drought, combined with conflict and complex humanitarian access issues, caused famine in Somalia.

Famine Early Warning Network said there are more than 1.8 million children in desperate need of treatment for life-threatening severe acute malnutrition in the region, with 213,000 people now judged to be at risk of famine in Somalia.

This is what the worst drought in decades is doing to children and families in Ethiopia.

They need #ClimateAction NOW.

— UNICEF (@UNICEF) June 29, 2022

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