Child marriage

Child marriage threatens the lives, well-being and futures of girls around the world

Un grupo de niñas que se han opuesto al matrimonio infantil se dirigen a la escuela en la aldea de Berhabad (India).
UNICEF/UN0280307/Boro

The challenge

Child marriage refers to any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child. While the prevalence of child marriage has decreased worldwide – from one in four girls married a decade ago to approximately one in five today – the practice remains widespread. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals call for global action to end this human rights violation by 2030.

If efforts are not accelerated, more than 150 million girls will marry before their eighteenth birthday by 2030.

Child marriage is often the result of entrenched gender inequality, making girls disproportionately affected by the practice. Globally, the prevalence of child marriage among boys is just one fifth that among girls.

Hafsa Oumar, 16, stands outside a classroom
UNICEF/UN060345/Sokhin
Nigerian refugee Hafsa Oumar, 16, stands outside a classroom in Dar es Salam camp, Lake Region, Chad. Hafsa enrolled in school for the first time when she arrived in Chad, but stopped attending once she was married.

Child marriage robs girls of their childhood and threatens their lives and health. Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence and less likely to remain in school. They have worse economic and health outcomes than their unmarried peers, which are eventually passed down to their own children, further straining a country’s capacity to provide quality health and education services.

Child brides often become pregnant during adolescence, when the risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth increases – for themselves and their infants. The practice can also isolate girls from family and friends and exclude them from participating in their communities, taking a heavy toll on their physical and psychological well-being.

Because child marriage impacts a girl’s health, future and family, it imposes substantial economic costs at the national level, too, with major implications for development and prosperity.

The solution

Addressing child marriage requires recognition of the factors that enable it. While the roots of the practice vary across countries and cultures, poverty, lack of educational opportunities and limited access to health care perpetuate it. Some families marry their daughters off early to reduce their economic burden or earn income. Others may do so because they believe it will secure their daughters’ futures or protect them.

“If a girl of my age gets married, it’s not good. I have a different perspective from many. Going to school doesn’t spoil a girl – quite the contrary.”

Aydoudate Abdoulaye, 15, from Menaka, Mali

Norms and stereotypes around gender roles and marriage age, as well as the socio-economic risk of pregnancy outside of marriage, also uphold the practice.

” أرادت زوجة أبي أن تزوجني لرجل عندما كان عمري 13 سنة.
UNICEF/UNI199292/Dubourthoumieu
“My step-mother wanted to marry me off to a man when I was 13. I refused since I was still a little girl and I wanted to study. So she took me to the market and abandoned me there. I didn’t come back, it was a good decision. Now, I’m currently in the last year of primary school continuing with my studies. I want to go to high school and then become a tradeswoman.” Florence, 14. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Because UNICEF works with a range of stakeholders – from grassroots community organizations to high-level decision makers – across a scope of human-rights issues, it is uniquely positioned to identify and address the systemic factors posing a challenge to reproductive health and gender equality.

In 2016, UNICEF, together with UNFPA, launched the Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage. Empowering young girls at risk of marriage or already in union, the programme reached more than 1.1 million adolescent girls in 2017 with life-skills training and school attendance support. Over 4 million people, including key community influencers, engaged in dialogue to support adolescent girls or other efforts to end child marriage.

Syrian refugees, aged 12–17
UNICEF/UN043144/Rich
Syrian refugees, aged 12–17, meet in a small tent in the corner of the Saadnayel informal settlement for refugees in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon. They have come to learn from each other and discuss how to better protect their community – and children and youth in particular – from harm, including violence, sexual abuse and child marriage.

Resources

LEADS Approach to Ending Child Marriage

Efforts to end child marriage in Africa need to be accelerated. This brief highlights one approach for doing so.


Review of the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage

This summary notes key highlights and challenges in the implementation of Phase I of the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage.


UNICEF and the Government of Canada: Accelerating the Movement to End Child, Early and Forced Marriage

In 2014, UNICEF, with funding from the Government of Canada, focused on policy making, community mobilization and evidence generation to end child marriage. This donor report summarizes UNICEF results and activities from 2014 to 2017.


UNICEF Data on Child Marriage

As the custodian agency for monitoring progress towards ending all harmful practices by 2030, UNICEF generates periodic global estimates of child marriage.


Girls Not Brides Resource Centre

Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 900 civil society organizations committed to ending child marriage.