Reflecting on national strategies to end child marriage: lessons from 11 countries

Adolescent girls learning about the impact of child marriage through interactive group activities. | Photo credit: Girl Up Initiative Uganda.

One of the biggest challenges for the movement to end child marriage is scale. How do we take local solutions to child marriage and bring them up to scale so that it’s not just girls in one community, but girls across a whole country, that benefit? We set out to answer these questions in 2015 by analysing four emerging strategies in Egypt, Ethiopia, Nepal and Zambia.

One year on and many countries are developing similar strategies, primarily in Africa and South Asia. Documenting these initiatives and their impact will be crucial to making progress on child marriage.

In our latest report, “Lessons learned from national initiatives to end child marriage – 2016“, we look at the implementation of national initiatives in 11 countries: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Nepal, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Here are some of the key lessons we’ve learned.

Lesson 1: The sustained leadership and political will of the government is essential to ensuring that national initiatives move forward

In all 11 countries, the gender or women’s ministry is in charge of coordinating action to address child marriage. With a large mandate but little capacity, resources or political influence, this can be a major obstacle to effecting change. But there are ways around it.

The executive government can give the ministry a strong mandate and political clout by publicly demonstrating its commitment to ending child marriage. Gender ministries, though resource-poor, can still provide technical input and lead the coordination between other ministries by hosting consultations, or chairing inter-ministerial working groups.

Lesson 2: Governments need to strengthen their capacity to coordinate work across sectors, communicate clearly about what is happening, and allocate budget to address child marriage

We can’t stress the importance of coordination mechanisms enough. They help map out and track who’s doing what, where, when, how, and with what resources. In Burkina Faso, a multi-sectoral platform in charge of the strategy’s implementation brings together 13 ministries, technical and financial partners and civil society.

There also needs to be a way of sharing information to keep everyone updated on the latest national efforts to end child marriage. In Ghana, the Ministry of Gender uses social media to share updates about its work (check them out on Facebook and Twitter). In Uganda, the government shared the national strategy at the district level through meetings, helping local officials to plan its implementation.

Finally, costing is key. Without a budget for the activities outlined in the strategy, there is little chance of seeing progress. In Zambia, the government brought in accountants from key ministries to help cost the national action plan to end child marriage.

Lesson 3: Civil society is vital to the design and implementation of national initiatives, as well as holding governments to account

Due to their expertise and local knowledge, civil society organisations are key in shaping national strategies on ending child marriage. Collective advocacy by these organisations often encourages governments to take action.

Collective here is key. Lead ministries find civil society organisations easier to interact with, and a more efficient use of government time. In a number of countries such as Mozambique and Nepal, Girls Not Brides members formed National Partnerships that have become the civil society contact for the government.

Lesson 4: Child marriage is not a standalone issue and shouldn’t be seen as one. For maximum impact, all sectors and ministries need to integrate a focus on child marriage in their work

Child marriage is a complex issue with ripple effects across health, education, and economic development. National strategies can bring coherence to the many efforts addressing child marriage. Yet there’s also a risk in creating so-called “child marriage initiatives” that view child marriage in a silo.

Including child marriage in other policy areas means:

  • Working with the Ministry of Health to provide quality sexual and reproductive information and services to adolescent girls
  • Working with the Ministry of Education to ensure girls at risk of child marriage and married girls have access to, and stay in, quality education
  • Working with child protection systems to strengthen response mechanisms to gender-based violence and violence against children.

We are still in the early stages of understanding what a multi-sectoral response to child marriage looks like and how best to implement it. We hope that our findings will help inform and strengthen the work being done by governments, development partners and civil society to address child marriage and deliver a better future for girls.

Lessons learned from national initiatives - cover

For more information