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, 150 million girls will be married as children over the next decade. 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 a number of 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.

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).

“She goes with me in my boat”: Child and Adolescent Marriage in Brazil

This recent report is one of the few to systematically examine the issues of early/child marriage in Latin America, focusing specifically on Brazil. The research conducted focused on exploring the attitudes towards child marriage among both girls and their gatekeepers and to document the practice of child and adolescent marriage further (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).

Too Young to Wed: The growing problem of child marriage among Syrian girls in Jordan

This publication examines the role of the Syrian crisis in worsening the situation around child marriage, both in Syria and in refugee camps in Jordan. The report examines why and how the crisis has resulted in higher rates of child marriage, how this has impacted girls, and suggests strategies for changing the trajectory of the crisis through specific interventions (2014).