New Delhi: There has been a significant drop in the number of child marriages in India -- from nearly 50 to 30 per cent -- in the last 10 years, a survey by UN children's agency Unicef showed on Tuesday.
There has been significant drop globally in the practice as well, and 25 million child marriages have been prevented in the past decade worldwide, the UN Children's Fund said.
According to the new data, the total number of girls across the globe married in childhood is now estimated at 12 million a year.
Unicef pointed that worldwide, an estimated 650 million women alive today were married off as children.
South Asia witnessed the largest decline in child marriages worldwide in the last decade as a girl's risk of marrying before turning 18 dropped by more than a third.
One in five girls are now married before they are 18, compared with one in four a decade ago.
According to the Unicef, increasing rates of girls' education, proactive government investments in adolescent girls, and strong public messaging around the illegality of child marriage and the harm it causes are among the reasons for the shift.
However, Unicef also noted that despite the overall decline in India, national and state averages mask realities at the district level as a few districts continue to have high rates of child marriage.
"The states with the highest prevalence of child marriage are Bihar, West Bengal and Rajasthan with close to 40 per cent prevalence.
"While Tamil Nadu and Kerala have prevalence below 20 per cent, they have pockets of disparity concentrated in tribal communities and amongst particular castes including the Schedule Castes," the agency added.
"When a girl is forced to marry as a child she faces immediate and lifelong consequences. Her odds of finishing school decrease while her odds of being abused by her husband and suffering complications during pregnancy increase.
"There are also huge societal consequences, and higher risk of inter-generational cycles of poverty," Anju Malhotra, Unicef's principal gender adviser, said.
The report said that the burden of child marriage was shifting to sub-Saharan Africa, where more progress was needed to offset population growth. Nearly one in three child marriages were now in sub-Saharan Africa, compared with one in five a decade ago.
World leaders have vowed to end child marriage by 2030 under the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Malhotra said that to meet that target, efforts had to be stepped up "to prevent millions of girls having their childhoods stolen through this devastating practice".