Child marriage

At UNICEF, we believe that child marriage is a form of violence against children. Our aim is to avert 500,000 child marriages in the region by 2021.

A Child bride in India
UNICEF ROSA/2017/Bronstein


Child Marriage is defined as a marriage of a girl or boy before the age of 18 and refers to both formal marriages and informal unions in which children under the age of 18 live with a partner as if married. Child marriage affects both girls and boys, but it affects girls disproportionately, especially in South Asia.

South Asia has the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Almost half (45%) of all women aged 20-24 years reported being married before the age of 18. Almost one in five girls (17%) are married before the age of 15.

Child marriage violates children’s rights and places them at high risk of violence, exploitation, and abuse. India has the largest number of brides in the world – one-third of the global total. Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage in Asia (the fourth highest rate in the world). Nepal has also one the highest rates of child marriage in Asia for both boys and girls.

Child marriage is declining (63% in 1985 to 45%t in 2010) in South Asia, with the decline being especially marked for girls under 15 (32% in 1985 to 17% in 2010). The marriage of girls aged 15-18 is however still commonplace, so more efforts are needed to protect older adolescents from marriage.

Child marriage is the result of the interplay of economic and social forces. In communities where the practice is prevalent, marrying a girl as a child is part of a cluster of social norms and attitudes that reflect the low value accorded to the human rights of girls.

UNICEF’s approach to ending child marriage in South Asia recognises the complex nature of the problem, and the socio-cultural and structural factors underpinning the practice. 


UNICEF’s approach to ending child marriage in South Asia recognises the complex nature of the problem, and the socio-cultural and structural factors underpinning the practice. UNICEF’s approach, therefore, envisions success in two timeframes. In the short term (5-10 years), UNICEF sees a critical mass of children, families, and communities changing their attitudes and behaviours; in the longer term (10-30 years), UNICEF sees aspirations for all children upheld by new social norms.

UNICEF considers five entry points to accelerate these changes: (i) to increase agency and resources for adolescents – especially girls – at risk of and affected by child marriage; (ii) to enhance legal and development policy frameworks for an enabling environment that protects the rights of adolescent girls and boys; (iii) to increase the generation and use of a robust evidence base for advocacy, programming, learning and tracking progress; (iv) to enhance systems and services that respond to the needs of adolescents at risk of or affected by child marriage; and (v) to increase social action, acceptance, and visibility around investing in and supporting girls, and shifting social expectations relating to girls, including by engaging boys and men.

At the global level, child marriage is included in Goal 5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” under Target 5.3 “Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation”. In 2016, UNICEF and UNFPA joined forces through a Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage in 12 countries with the highest rates of child brides. In South Asia, it is implemented in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. For the first time, existing strategies in areas like health, education, child protection and water and sanitation, are coming together to form a unique holistic programme with shared plans and goals. The programme will work in partnership with governments, civil society organisations and young people themselves and adopt methods that have proven to work at scale