• Child marriage affects millions of girls worldwide

    While boys are sometimes married early, girls are disproportionately affected and form the vast majority of victims of child marriage. Every single day, it is estimated that more than 25,000 girls under the age of 18 are married. This practice not only harms the young brides, but also impedes the development of their communities and societies as a whole.

  • Child marriage hotspots

    • Niger: 75% of women aged 20-24 were married before reaching 18.
    • Chad: 72%
    • Mali: 71%
    • Bangladesh: 64%
    • Guinea: 63%
    • Central African Republic: 61%
    • Sierra Leone: 56%
    • Mozambique: 52%
    • Nepal: 51%
    • Malawi: 50%
    • Ethiopia: 49%
    • India: 47%

    Source: UNICEF 2010, The State of the World's Children

  • Child marriage puts girls at risk and perpetuates poverty

    Girls face huge risks when they marry at a young age. They are much more prone to death or injury due to early sexual activity and early childbearing. A girl under the age of 15 is five times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman in her twenties.

    The children of young mothers are also at much greater risk. When a mother is under 18, her baby is 60 per cent more likely to die before its first birthday than a baby born to a mother older than 19. As young brides often have older husbands, they may not have the power to negotiate safe sexual behaviour. This means they are more vulnerable to HIV infection and more likely to suffer domestic violence.

    Girls who marry young also find it very difficult to complete their education. This increases the education gap between boys and girls and increases the likelihood that the girl and her family will live in poverty.

  • The Millennium Development Goals

    Six of the eight MDGs are directly and negatively affected by the huge prevalence of child marriage:

    • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
    • Achieve universal primary education
    • Promote gender equality and empower women
    • Reduce child mortality
    • Improve maternal health
    • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Child marriage denies girls their fundamental rights

    Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates, “Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” Several UN bodies and conventions consider 18 to be the minimum age when a young person is able to make a significant life decision such as marriage. These include the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Human Rights Committee (HRC).

    Child marriage is a clear violation of human rights, including the rights to life, liberty, self-determination and health.

  • Working towards a world without child marriage

    Efforts to end child marriage face enormous challenges:

    • Poor legislative framework. Child marriage has been outlawed in most countries. However, laws preventing child marriage often fail to be enforced, and child marriage continues to take place in many communities.
    • Lack of accurate data. Many countries do not collect data on sexual and reproductive practices. Girls are not always registered at birth, leaving their precise ages in question.
    • Entrenched attitudes. In many communities child marriage is an ancestral tradition that has been gone unquestioned for generations. Efforts to address this harmful practice need to target whole communities and not just individuals.
    • A neglected issue. Although child marriage is widely practiced and affects millions of girls, their families and the development of their communities, the issue has yet to be widely recognised.
  • What is already being done?

    There are many groups tackling child marriage. Their approaches include:

    • Empowering girls at risk of early marriage with information, skills and economic opportunities .
    • Enhancing the education of girls and women.
    • Establishing community dialogues to discuss the risks of early marriage with parents and community members.
    • Encouraging the adoption and implementation of laws protecting girls .

    Desmond Tutu and Ela Bhatt with young people participating in the Jagriti campaign  to stop child marriage in Bihar, India, February 2012

    Desmond Tutu and Ela Bhatt with young people participating in the Jagriti campaign to stop child marriage in Bihar, India, February 2012