child bride
Child brides are fueling high infant mortality rates in Southeast Asia, study saysReuters

As Child Survival India and Havas Worldwide launch a campaign to raise awareness of child marriages , one of India's major social issues, IBTimes UK looks at some of the countries with the highest rates of children who are forced to marry before they turn 18.

Niger

According to United Nations Population Funds ( UNFPA) Niger has the highest percentage of child marriage in the world (75%). In Niger one in three girls is married before the age of 15, and 75% of women aged 20 to 24 are married before they reach 18.

According to activists, girls as young as seven are sold as brides in Niger.

"There are many reasons for early child marriage but the food crisis is making it worse," World Vision charity's Fatima Soumana told the Telegraph.

Chad 

On average, almost three out of four girls are married before their 18th birthday in Chad, UNFPA said.

After Niger, child marriage prevalence in Chad is significantly higher than the regional average for sub-Saharan Africa

The practice is prevalent among all social classes.

In a 2013 report on child marriages in west Africa, The Ford Foundation pointed at "cultural tradition, conflict, state fragility and a general bewilderment by parents and communities about what to do with large numbers of children, in the face of a failing education system and a stiffled economy" as reasons why the practice persists.

Malawi

According to government statistics, half of the girls in Malawi will be married by their 18th birthday, with some as young as nine or 10 being forced into wedlock, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported.

Girls interviewed by HRW said they were pressurised to marry by family members keen to receive dowry payments, because they were pregnant, or they themselves saw marriage as a route, often unfulfilled, to escape poverty.

"Adolescent pregnancy is a key driver of child marriage in Malawi," HRW reported. "Girls lack the power to negotiate safer sex with men, do not know about contraception, and are forced by their parents to have sex for money or food. Many end up becoming pregnant and being forced into marriage by their families,"

Bangladesh

According to UNICEF's State of the World's Children report, one third of women aged 20-24 in Bangladesh are married by the age of 15 and about two thirds by the age of 18. The percentage is much higher in rural areas.

Under the Child Marriage Restraint Act (1929), the legal marriage age in Bangladesh is 18 years for a girl and 21 years for a boy. Penalties for child marriage according to the act is imprisonment for one month or a fine up to 1,000 taka (€9.4) or both.

India

UNFPA reported that 47% of girls in India are married before the legal minimum age.

The northern State of Bihar has the highest incidence of child marriage at (68%), followed by Bangladesh (66%), Jharkand (55.7%), Rajasthan (57.6%), Uttar Pradesh (54.9%), West Bengal (54.8%) and Madhya Pradesh (53.8%).

"Although India's law against child marriage is applicable to all regardless of religion, personal laws, including the Muslim Personal Law, are sometimes used to assert religious identities," Equality Now reported.