Child marriage

Key Result for Children

In 2007 in Niger, a girl smiles in the city of Agadez, capital of Agadez Region. She is a member of the Fulani ethnic group.

What’s at stake?

Child marriage is a human rights violation taking place on a vast scale in West and Central Africa which disproportionately affect girls. Girls who marry young often drop out of school and face physical risks, especially during pregnancy. Due to the social, health and economic impacts of child marriage, the practice is a major obstacle to sustainable development.

Six of the world’s 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in West and Central Africa. Average prevalence across the region remains high: about 41 per cent of girls marry before reaching the age of 18.

Rapid growth of the child population in African countries makes it increasingly urgent that countries accelerate their efforts to address child marriage. Ending child marriage is essential to give millions of adolescent girls the opportunity to realize their full potential, while improving maternal and child health.

The Sustainable Development Goals target the elimination of all forms of harmful practices, including child marriage. In West and Central Africa, there is growing momentum for ending child marriage, including the African Union member states’ endorsement of an ‘African Common Position to End Child Marriage’ and the ‘Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa’. Several countries have developed and begun to implement national strategies or action plans addressing child marriage.

Our goal


Change strategies

In West and Central Africa, UNICEF will carry out these integrated strategies to accelerate progress toward change.

  • Supporting adolescent girls at risk of, or affected by, child marriage to stay in school through the lower secondary cycle and acquire life skills, enabling them to make choices and exercise their rights.
  • Promoting community dialogue and social mobilization to ensure that households demonstrate positive attitudes and behaviours toward investing in and supporting adolescent girls.
  • Supporting health, education and other relevant systems to deliver quality, cost-effective services that meet the needs of adolescent girls.
  • Advocating in favour of national laws, policy frameworks and mechanisms to protect and promote adolescent girls’ rights, ensure that they are aligned with international standards and that adequate resources are available to carry them out.
  • Assisting governments and partners to support the generation and use of robust data and evidence to inform policy and programming, track progress and document lessons.
Illustration: Child Protection