Child Marriage: Every year, 12 million girls marry before the age of 18
Child and forced marriage (CFM) is a violation of human rights and a harmful practise that disproportionately affects women and girls around the world, preventing them from living lives free of all forms of violence.
CFM endangers the lives and futures of girls and women all over the world by robbing them of the power to make their own decisions, interfering with their education, increasing their susceptibility to abuse, violence, and discrimination, and preventing them from fully participating in the political, social, and economic spheres.
Additionally, early and frequent pregnancies and deliveries are typically brought on by child marriage, leading to higher than average rates of maternal morbidity and mortality.
Women and girls who are subjected to CFM may seek to leave their communities or end their lives in an effort to avoid or elude the marriage.
Definition of Child Marriage and Forced Marriage
Child marriage is any marriage where at least one of the parties is under 18 years of age.
A forced marriage is one in which one or both parties have not given their full and free consent to the union. A child marriage is considered a form of forced marriage if one or both parties do not give their full, free, and informed consent.
Statistics on child marriage
- Every year, 12 million girls marry before the age of 18, accounting for nearly half of the Australian population.
- One in every five girls marries or enters into a union before the age of 18. In the least developed countries, 40% of girls marry before the age of 18 and 12% marry before the age of 15.
- Sub-Saharan Africa has a 37% rate – Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of child marriage, with 37% of young women marrying before the age of 18.
- Girls from low-income families are nearly twice as likely as girls from higher-income families to marry before the age of 18.
- More than half of the girls in Bangladesh, Mali, Mozambique, and Niger marry before reaching the age of 18. In these same countries, more than 75% of people live on less than $2 per day.
- Girls who have completed more education are less likely to marry as children. In Mozambique, approximately 60% of girls with no education marry by the age of 18, compared to 10% of girls with secondary schooling and less than 1% of girls with higher education.
- Child marriage rates are highest in West and Central Africa, where nearly four out of every ten young women marry before the age of 18.
- Child marriage is less common in Eastern and Southern Africa (32%), South Asia (28%), and Latin America and the Caribbean (21%).
- In 2012, 70 million women aged 20 to 24 had married before the age of 18.
- If current trends continue, 150 million girls will marry before the age of 18 in the next decade. That equates to approximately 15 million girls each year.
Impact of COVID-19 on Child Marriage
The COVID-19 pandemic is significantly affecting how girls live their daily lives and exercise their human rights. It is possible to draw the conclusion that the risk of child marriage rises in the setting of the COVID-19 epidemic and its effects based on empirical literature and theory on the drivers of child marriage as well as anecdotal information from a number of countries. According to new UNICEF research, the economic impact on families and society, school closings, and delays in services for girls are particularly endangering development and putting millions of girls at risk of child marriage.
Gender Inequality Fuels Child Marriage
Gender inequality continues to fuel child marriage, according to a Save the Children in Nigeria national report, The State of Nigerian Girls: An in-depth Examination of Child, Early, and Forced Marriage in Nigeria. According to a survey conducted by the organisation, many communities believe that children born to young mothers are healthier and smarter. It’s also widely assumed that younger girls “refresh” older men with their “younger blood.”
Even in countries where child marriage is prohibited, exceptions are common, and the practise persists, including in Burkina Faso, which has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.
A 23-year-old woman was promised to her husband at birth and was forced to marry him when she was only 12 years old. She stated:
“My husband was 54 years old and had four wives.” I wanted to continue studying, so I decided to flee. I was apprehended and returned to live with him, so I tried again. I walked for 25 miles, got on a bus, and eventually ended up in a centre that helps child brides like me. I’m now studying mathematics and preparing to become a nurse, all while mentoring other young girls about the value of education.” (Save the Children).
Child Marriage Among Boys
Although the risks and effects of child marriage are not the same for boys and girls due to biological and societal factors, the practise nevertheless violates the rights of children of both sexes. Child grooms, like child brides, are compelled to assume adult obligations for which they might not be ready. The union may result in early fatherhood, more financial strain from having to support the family, and restrictions on the boy’s access to education and prospects for professional progress.
The countries with the highest rates of child marriage among boys are geographically diverse and differ from those with the highest rates of child marriage among girls.
Globally, 115 million boys and men are married before the age of 18.
The countries where child marriage is most common among boys are geographically diverse and differ from those where it is most common among girls.
While child grooms are less common than child brides, they, too, have had their rights violated, cutting their childhood short. More research on the drivers of the practise and its impact on child grooms is required.
UN and WHO studies and reports
- Latest reports and technical notes of UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to End Child Marriage
- COVID-19, A threat to progress against child marriage, UNICEF (2021)
- Understanding the relationship between child marriage and female genital mutilation, A statistical overview of their co-occurrence and risk factors, UNICEF (2021)
- Looking ahead towards 2030, Eliminating child marriage through a decade of action, UNICEF (2020)
- Child marriage among boys in high-prevalence countries, An analysis of sexual and reproductive health outcomes, UNICEF (2019)
- Child Marriage: Latest trends and future prospects, UNICEF (2018)
Key international and regional instruments addressing CFM
- Recommendations for action against child and forced marriage: A compilation based on relevant United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council reports on child, early and forced marriage (2017)
- CEDAW General recommendation No. 35 on gender-based violence against women (updating general recommendation No. 19) (2017)
- Joint general recommendation No. 31 of CEDAW and general comment No. 18 of the CRC on harmful practices (2014)
- CEDAW General recommendation No. 30 (2013) on women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations
- Joint General Comment of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) on ending child marriage (2017)