Child marriage is a violation of human and child rights.
Child marriage is any marriage between a child under the age of 18 with an adult or another child.
It includes both formal marriages and informal arrangements where a child lives with a partner as if they are married.
Child marriage is a tragic reality for girls and boys in South Asia, but it continues to disproportionately affects girls.
1 in 4 young women in South Asia were married before their 18th birthday
The decision to marry a child is driven by deep-seated social and religious views and financial hardship. The practice is reinforced by harmful gender values and beliefs and inequality. Girls are often seen as a burden for families and some families believe that marriage provides them with protection.
Inadequate laws, loopholes and lack of birth registration can also leave children vulnerable to be given in marriage – unprotected by systems that should be keeping them safe.
In South Asia, girls who are from poor households, are less educated and live in rural areas are more likely to become child brides.
Girls living in areas prone to conflict and natural disasters are particularly vulnerable to child marriage. Families in dire situations are often forced to make desperate choices, which can tragically include marrying off their daughters at a young age.
South Asia is home to nearly half (45 per cent) of the world's child brides – 290 million of them. 1
When a child is married, their whole world narrows. They are often cut off from their families, stop going to school, and for girls especially, it can lead to lifelong and serious health problems.
Girls who marry in childhood are more likely to experience domestic violence and get pregnant before they turn 18.
Three in four child brides in South Asia give birth while they are adolescents. Still children themselves, their bodies are not yet ready to bear a child – and the consequences can be devastating for their health and that of their babies.
Child brides have a higher risk of severe complications, during pregnancy and childbirth.
The majority of child brides in South Asia are out of school.
In Bangladesh, India and Nepal, child brides are four times more likely to be out of school than their unmarried peers. And in Pakistan, 1 in 4 girls who marry as a child have never even been to school.
This reality further holds girls back from reaching their full potential – closing the door on learning opportunities and future employment – and shattering their dreams.
Marrying in childhood can also isolate girls from family and friends and exclude them from participating in their communities, taking a heavy toll on their mental health and well-being.
South Asia could eliminate child marriage only in 55 years
In the last decade, significant progress has been made to reduce child marriage in South Asia by the year 2030. Yet, if we continue at the same pace, it could take 55 years to eliminate it.
The combined impact of economic shocks, conflict, humanitarian crises and climate change challenge this progress. Particularly, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic – financial hardship, school closures, lockdown, migration and restrictions on services that help protect children – continue to drive child marriages in the region.
UNICEF and its partners in South Asia are committed to ending child marriage for good. We are working closely with governments in making sure every girl is supported by their families, schools, and the law, to protect them against this devastating practice.
Empowering adolescent girls and transforming gender values and beliefs
We support girls to use their voice and make their own life choices by building their confidence, abilities, and opportunities. We provide life skills training and sexual health education, through clubs and safe spaces where children can play while learning about the dangers of child marriage. We also build support networks and make sure girls at risk of child marriage are referred to the services they need to stay safe, protected and healthy.
The longer a girl stays in school the less likely they are to marry as a child. That’s why we support girls to finish secondary education, including providing financial support to keep girls in school, so that their families and communities can invest more in girls.
Engaging families and communities, including men and boys, to promote positive social norms, beliefs and behaviours
We take action at the community level to address the underlying causes of child marriage. Engaging with influential community members like religious leaders can positively shift social attitudes and expectations towards girls and change how girls are valued by their parents, families and communities. Involving boys in clubs and school programmes that teach life skills and sexual education can help to break gender stereotypes for both girls and boys.
Strengthening laws, policies and social protection services to protect the rights of girls and boys
We work to change and abolish laws and policies that discriminate against girls, including instances where the legal age of marriage is different for women and men. We support families living in poverty with social protection services, including cash transfers. This helps make sure they can support their children and their family through economic crises and times of uncertainty.
These resources are a small selection of materials produced by UNICEF in the region and globally. The list is regularly updated to include the latest information
Last update: July 2023