Due to accelerated progress over the last decade, a girl's risk of marrying before her 18th birthday has dropped from one in four to approximately one in five, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Tuesday.
According to the new data from UNICEF, there are 25 million fewer child marriages across the world than would have been anticipated under 10 years ago.
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, the agency reported.
"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 intergenerational cycles of poverty", Anju Malhotra, UNICEF's Principal Gender Advisor said.
"Given the life-altering impact child marriage has on a young girl's life, any reduction is welcome news, but we've got a long way to go," he added.
Although the prevalence of child marriage is decreasing worldwide, action will need to be stepped up to achieve the global target of ending the practice by 2030.
The UN agency estimates 12 million girls are still married off each year, despite the reduction.
Eliminating child marriage and other practices harmful to women and girls are among the target under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The 17 SDGs focus on people, the planet and prosperity, and have a deadline of 2030.
However, UNICEF said progress must be significantly accelerated if the child marriage target is to be achieved by this date, warning that an additional 150 million girls could become brides by 2030.
Progress particularly needs to be scaled up in sub-Saharan Africa where the global burden of child marriage is now shifting, the UN agency added.
The region accounted for close to one in three of the world's most recently married child brides, compared to one in five a decade ago.
A 2016 UNICEF data revealed that Nigeria has the world's highest number of child brides with 49 per cent of Nigerian women married under the age of 18.