One-third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18, with one in nine married before the age of 15. If current trends continue, 650 million girls who are alive today will be married by the time they are 18 years of age. While much of the attention for programs addressing adolescent reproductive health and HIV prevention focuses on unmarried youth, the majority of unprotected sexual activity, pregnancy, and childbearing among adolescent girls in most developing countries occurs within marriage. 

When girls marry at a young age, they often leave their homes, stop attending school, and lose contact with family and friends. For many, marriage marks the beginning of their sexual life, even when this takes place at very young ages. Studies have shown that young married girls face several disadvantages that affect their health as well as their social and economic well-being. Girls who are married before age 18 are much more likely to live in poor households, have less or no education, suffer from pregnancy-related complications, experience domestic violence, and have lower decision-making power in their household.

A review of interventions aimed at preventing child marriage found five strategies to be particularly promising:

  1. Empowering girls with information, skills, and support networks. This approach focuses on girls directly, emphasizing training, sharing information, developing networks of social support, and creating safe spaces for learning.
  2. Educating and mobilizing parents and community members. This approach focuses on key gatekeepers and decision-makers in the lives of adolescent girls, working to inform about the dangers of early marriage for girls and their families.
  3. Enhancing the accessibility and quality of formal schooling for girls. This approach focuses more at the institutional level, seeking to overcome barriers to girls schooling, prevent dropout, and provide a clear rationale for parents and girls to stay in school through improving quality.
  4. Offering economic support and incentives for girls and their families. This approach directly addresses poverty as a driver of child marriage, providing families with economic incentives, often in the form of conditional transfers, to marry their daughters at a later age.
  5. Fostering and enabling legal and policy framework. This strategy focuses on preventing child marriage through legislative or policy protections for girls who are at risk of marriage, such as through instituting a minimum age at marriage that is at or above age 18.

Child Marriage: Latest trends and future prospects

This UNICEF brief summarizes the latest facts and figures related to child marriage around the globe. (2018)

Economic Impacts of Child Marriage Project

“The Economic Impacts of Child Marriage project started out as a collaborative effort by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the World Bank, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, and additional support from the Global Partnership for Education.” The website houses briefs and other publications related to specific countries of the project including Ethiopia, Niger and Nepal.”  (2017)

Taking Action To Address Child Marriage: The Role Of Different Sectors

“Developed by the International Center for Research on Women, this series of 10 briefs provides a short, accessible introduction to incorporating and measuring child marriage prevention and response throughout the programme lifecycle within a variety of sectoral and cross-sectoral programming. (2016)”

Ending Child Marriage: Child Marriage Laws And Their Limitations

“This brief summarizes findings from research undertaken by Save the Children and the World Bank on the lack of legal protection against child marriage for girls and marriages that take place below the national minimum age of marriage. The analysis suggests that many countries still do not effectively legally protect girls against child marriage, but also that legal reforms are not sufficient to end the practice as many girls marry illegally in countries where legal protections are in place.” (2017)

Child Marriage in the Middle East and North Africa

“In light of the Global Programme, this study was designed to inform the scaling up of efforts to address child marriage in the MENA region. In 2016 the UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office (MENARO) partnered with the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) to take stock and assess current and ongoing programmatic responses, explore promising approaches, and identify gaps with a view to accelerate and scale up efforts to address child marriage across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, specifically in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan, Yemen and Morocco. The study provides country-level and regional-level analyses and recommendations for programming at the local, national and regional levels to strengthen work to end child marriage. The key findings and recommendations for the regional analysis are summarized in terms of the 5 outcomes of the Global Programme. (2017)”

Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage

This report provides a global overview of the issue of child marriage, including global and regional trends, differences in child marriage rates by various measures of socioeconomic inequality, and measurement of child marriage. The report concludes with the development of an agenda for action that remains relevant to research and programming on child marriage (2012).

Solutions to End Child Marriage: What the Evidence Shows

This brief systematically examines and analyzes evaluated programs whose goal was the prevention of child marriage. The analysis provides guidance on both what has and has not worked and identifies key strategies for programming in this area (2011).

Understanding the Scale of Child Marriage: A User Guide by Girls Not Brides

This factsheet provides updated information on the scale of child marriage, both at the global level and in specific countries. The factsheet also includes estimates of the prevalence of child marriage in the future should current trends not be reduced, decline at the current pace, or decline more rapidly, making the case for urgent action (2015).

More Power to Her: How Empowering Girls Can End Child Marriage

This report aims to describe in detail the programmatic approaches that underpin the strategies identified as being particularly effective at preventing child marriage. The report provides an in-depth overview of four successful interventions focused on adolescent girls, including work from Bangladesh, Egypt, India, and Ethiopia. Based on the findings of this review, the report provides recommendations to the field on how to build on these approaches in the future (2014).

Building an Evidence Base to Delay Marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa

This project implemented by the Population Council between 2010 and 2015, sought to provide rigorous evaluation evidence of the impact and cost-effectiveness of different programmatic interventions in three child marriage ‘hotspots’ in Sub-Saharan Africa. The results from this project provide both programmers and policymakers with concrete evidence on the relative efficacy of different approaches, allowing them to make informed decisions about what types of programs they may choose to implement in order to prevent child marriage (2010-2015).

“To Protect Her Honour”: Child Marriage in Emergencies – The Fatal Confusion between Protecting Girls and Sexual Violence

This publication, part of the Gender and Protection in Humanitarian Contexts Critical Issues series developed by CARE International, describes child marriage in the context of the Syrian crisis/conflict. The report both documents the ways in which the conflict has contributed to child marriage and provides recommendations for policy-makers in terms of prevention of child marriage in conflict settings (2015).