Africa child bride numbers 'may double' by 2050 UN warns

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Media captionGirls should be at school, says AU Chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

The number of child brides in Africa will more than double to 310 million by 2050 unless urgent action is taken, the UN's children's fund Unicef has warned in a new report.

More than one in three girls are married before the age of 18, mostly in poor rural families, it said.

The projection was based on slow rates of reduction and rapid population growth across the continent.

The African Union (AU) wants to set 18 years as the minimum age for marriage.

The AU launched a campaign earlier this year to end the practice of child marriage and its head, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, told the BBC that the practice can "oppress women".

"It's something we are dead against in every country as we don't think children should be wives," she added.

The AU is holding a two-day conference in Zambia's capital, Lusaka, to review the progress being made and to persuade governments to make the practice illegal as it says it robs young girls of their future.

Image caption These Ugandan women were both married at 14 told the BBC how difficult it was them

"The sheer number of girls affected - and what this means in terms of lost childhoods and shattered futures - underline the urgency of banning the practice of child marriage once and for all," Unicef executive director Anthony Lake said.

Unicef says the poorest families on the continent often see marriage rather than education as the best way to secure a girl's future and protect her chastity.

The BBC's Nomsa Maseko in Lusaka says achieving this requires an uphill task of convincing local traditional leaders and parents that keeping girls in school and out of marriage is the way forward to break the cycle of poverty.

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Media captionChipasha Iliamupu was married off by her father at 15 years old in a rural village in Zambia

The report says the percentage of young girls in Africa who are married before the age of 18 has fallen from 44% in 1990 to 34% today.

But massive population growth means there will still be an increase in the number under-age marriages unless far more ambitious action is taken, it added.

Africa's population of girls under 18 is predicted to rise from 275 million today - 25% of the global total - to 465 million by 2050, 38% of the total.

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