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Child brides plague Africa, South Asia

| Friday, March 8, 2013, 9:12 p.m.

JUBA, South Sudan — The 17-year-old beaten to death for refusing to marry a man old enough to be her grandfather. The teen dragged by her family to be raped to force her into marrying an elderly man. They are among 39,000 girls forced into marriage every day around the world, sold like cattle to enrich their families.

More than one-third of all girls are married in 42 countries, according to the U.N. Population Fund, referring to females under the age of 18. The highest number of cases occurs in some of the poorest countries, the agency figures show, with the West African nation of Niger at the bottom of the list with 75 percent of girls married before they turn 18.

Most child marriages take place in South Asia and rural sub-Saharan Africa, according to the population fund. India, because of its large population, has the most ,with child brides in 47 percent of all marriages.

Government statistics in South Sudan show half the girls there aged 15 to 19 are married, with some brides as young as 12 years old.

“The country's widespread child marriage exacerbates South Sudan's pronounced gender gaps in school enrollment, contributes to soaring maternal mortality rates, and violates the right of girls to be free from violence,” says a Human Rights Watch report published Thursday ahead of International Women's Day on Friday.

Reducing child marriages is key to achieving U.N. millennium goals to improve child mortality and reduce maternal deaths, according to Malawi's Health Minister Catherine Gotani Hara. She said teen pregnancies accounted for up to 30 percent of maternal deaths in that southern African country.

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