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Even before you finish reading this sentence, a girl-child will have gotten married in some part of the world illegally, new research reported Tuesday.

Nearly 1 in every 4 seconds, or 20,000 girls younger than 18 are married each day illegally.

Like the 12-year-old girl who was raped by her cousin and forced by her aunt to marry him, according to the report.

The research marks the International Day of the Girl on October 11. Child marriage is a human rights violation and a form of violence against girls, according to the report by Save the Children and the World Bank.

“I was crying as they carried out the marriage rituals,” the 12-year-old said. “My aunt told me to do whatever my husband told me.” Her husband was 23.

“Child marriage is a harmful practice that disproportionately affects millions of girls each year, with negative impacts on their health, education, and opportunities in life.”?

FILE - Three-year-old Sunam is dressed in a bridal
FILE - Three-year-old Sunam is dressed in a bridal outfit in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 14, 2007.

Girls -- and boys -- who marry younger than 18 are not ready for marriage, sex or reproduction, the report says, and seldom complete secondary schooling. Child marriages are often forced and often happen between a young girl and an older man without consent.

Most countries have set 18 as the minimum legal age for girls marrying, but governments still grapple with enforcing child-marriage laws because of competing cultural and religious laws. In many countries worldwide, girls can be married younger than 18 if their parents or courts consent.

That is a huge driver of illegal child marriages, says Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children. 

Another driver of girl-child marriage is the attitude of parents toward their daughters, Miles told VOA StudentU.

Parents marry off their daughters way sooner than they are ready because women are valued economically less than men. Parents typically invest more in the education of their sons more than their daughters, resulting in a cycle of oppression for women, says Miles.

In parts of Ethiopia, the practice of female genital mutilation or circumcision (FGM/C) is common to enhance a girl's marriageability.

FILE - Parvez holds his 3-year-old daughter Sunam,
FILE - Parvez holds his 3-year-old daughter Sunam, who is dressed in the outfit she wore for the party in which she was engaged to her seven-year-old cousin, Nieem, in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 11, 2007.

"FGM/C is seen as a pre-requisite for marriage, not only to safeguard virginity, but to enhance popular feminine virtues: the qualities of a wife and mother," according to Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of more than 800 organizations from more than 95 countries "committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfil their potential."

“We will not see a world where girls and boys have the same opportunities to succeed in life until we eradicate child marriage,” Miles said in a press release. “When a girl gets married too young, her role as a wife and a mother takes over. She is more likely to leave school, she may become pregnant and suffer abuse.”

But, it's not only the attitude of parents about their daughters that needs to change, Miles said. The bias that boys have against their female classmates and family members needs to improve. 

Two-thirds of Grade 4 boys in parts of Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire said they believe that boys are smarter than girls, according to a Save the Children survey. Nearly 40 percent of Grade 4 boys in the U.S. agreed with them. Half of the parents of American fourth-graders said that the father is the head of the house.

Child marriage can be reduced if laws are implemented and strengthened. Education and economic opportunities for girls should be encouraged by parents, Miles said.

The 12-year-old escaped the chains of her husband and aunt with the help of her uncle, and ended at a safe house supported by Save the Children in Dakar.

She was 12. And five months pregnant.

Today she has a baby named Aida. She has completed a sewing course with the help of center.

The eradication of child marriage by 2030 is among the United Nation's sustainable development goals.

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