Child marriage threatens the lives, well-being and futures of girls around the world.
Child marriage refers to any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child.
Despite a steady decline in this harmful practice over the past decade, child marriage remains widespread, with approximately one in five girls married in childhood across the globe. Today, multiple crises – including conflict, climate shocks and the ongoing fallout from COVID-19 – are threatening to reverse progress towards eliminating this human rights violation. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals call for global action to end child marriage by 2030.
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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 sixth that among girls.
Child marriage robs girls of their childhood and threatens their well-being. 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, 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. The practice can also isolate girls from family and friends, taking a heavy toll on their mental health.
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 off their daughters to reduce their economic burden or earn income. Others may do so because they believe it will secure their daughters’ futures or protect them.
Norms and stereotypes around gender roles, as well as the socio-economic risk of pregnancy outside of marriage, also uphold the practice.
Because UNICEF works with a range of stakeholders – from grassroots organizations to high-level decision makers – across a scope of rights issues, we are uniquely positioned to identify and address the systemic barriers to reproductive health and gender equality.
In 2016, UNICEF, together with UNFPA, launched the Global Programme to End Child Marriage. Empowering young girls at risk of marriage or already in union, the programme have reached more than 14 million adolescent girls with life-skills training, comprehensive sexuality education and school attendance support since 2016. Over 177 million people, including key community influencers as well as men and boys specifically, have also engaged in dialogue and communication campaigns to support adolescent girls, or other efforts to end child marriage.
Last updated May 2023
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