Child marriage and female genital mutilation are internationally recognized human rights violations.
Harmful cultural practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM), are discriminatory practices committed regularly over such long periods of time that communities and societies begin to consider them acceptable.
Around the world, hundreds of millions of girls and boys have experienced some form of violence, exploitation or harmful practice, although girls are at much greater risk. Child marriage and FGM span continents and cultures, yet, in every society in which they are practiced, they reflect values that hold girls in low esteem.
Some 650 million girls and women around the world today have been married as children, and over 200 million have undergone FGM.
FGM can lead to serious health complications – including prolonged bleeding, infection and infertility – or even death. Girls who have undergone FGM are at heightened risk of experiencing complications during childbirth. It is estimated that FGM causes an additional one to two perinatal deaths per 100 deliveries.
In some societies, FGM goes hand in hand with child marriage. Girls married as children are more likely to drop out of school and become pregnant as teenagers – when they face increased risks of dying during pregnancy or childbirth. Infants born to teenage mothers are also more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life.
Wherever they occur, harmful practices rob girls of their childhood, deny them the chance to determine their own future and threaten the well-being of individuals, families and societies.
The Sustainable Development Goals call for the elimination of all harmful practices to advance the rights of women and girls globally. UNICEF seeks to ensure that every child is protected from violence and exploitation, including harmful practices, in both humanitarian and development settings. To that end, UNICEF works across the globe to:
- Increase global knowledge of the problem and political commitment to end child marriage and FGM
- Develop and support implementation of appropriate laws and policies
- Support community-level transformation of social norms and practices
- Empower women and girls to express and exercise their rights
- Increase access to quality prevention, protection and care services
- Increase government ownership over relevant programmes and efforts
- Strengthen data collection and analysis
UNICEF’s Strategic Plan 2018–2021 reaffirms our commitment to help eliminate child marriage and FGM. Together with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UNICEF co-leads the Joint Programme on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation: Accelerating Change and the Global Programme to End Child Marriage.
In 2019, UNICEF-supported programmes reached 5.7 million adolescent girls in 45 countries with prevention and care services related to ending child marriage. Eight and a half million people also participated in education, communication and awareness-raising activities to help eliminate FGM in 20 countries.
Last modified September 2020
More from UNICEF
This data brief analyses progress in child marriage elimination over the past 25 years and looking forward towards 2030 and beyond.
This policy brief calls for attention to the increased level of medicalization of FGM – where the practice is performed by a health professional.
This guide supports monitoring of social norms change to end harmful practices.