In this Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016 photo, Amazigh girls play outside their homes in a village near Midelt, a town in central Morocco between the Middle and High Atlas mountains. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)
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Moroccan schoolgirl Meriem was 16 when her family pressured her to marry a man 20 years her senior that she had never met.Morocco had hoped to curb child marriages by raising the legal age to 18 from 16 in 2004, yet numbers since then have surged nearly 50 percent to 27,205 in 2016, Justice Ministry data shows.Meriem's story shows why authorities struggle to prevent child marriage: many families, especially in rural areas, believe marrying off daughters will help them escape poverty and work around legal rules to follow traditional customs.Meriem declined to be identified fully and the husband could not be contacted.Human rights activists call for the abolition of articles of the family code that allow judges to certify marriages if the girl is 16, loves her partner and can bear children.
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