Child marriage is both a driver and consequence of poverty, perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes and denying girls their rights to education, health, and autonomy. Annually, 12 million girls are married worldwide, with huge variations in prevalence between and within countries. The vast majority of girls who are affected by child marriage are from the most marginalised communities often in areas affected by conflict or fragility. Gender inequality and limited access to universal free education often results in families with limited resources prioritising their sons' education over their daughters', limiting girls' economic prospects and leadership. Furthermore, many married children face hardships that meet international legal definitions of slavery, often experiencing economic powers of 'ownership' and control exercised over them. With little autonomy over their lives and bodies, many married girls become susceptible to domestic violence, health complications and lack of decision-making power.
The sixty-eighth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68), which will focus on accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective. Ahead of CSW68, Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage, together with Anti-Slavery International, the Global Campaign for Education, Soroptimist International, and CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality, submitted a written statement with recommendations for the Agreed Conclusions that will be adopted at CSW68. The statement is endorsed by members of the wider Girls Not Brides partnership, including the Centre for Unfolding Learning Potentials (CULP) and Network for Enterprise Enhancement and Development Support (NEEDS). The politically negotiated Agreed Conclusions will serve as a normative framework and roadmap for action, guiding governments, policymakers, donors, advocates, and practitioners in their efforts to address the many challenges facing girls and women around the world.
What are we calling for Governments to do?
- Address large-scale socioeconomic inequalities, which directly and indirectly disproportionately impact girls and drive child marriage. This involves creating and establishing progressive, redistributive global financial governance frameworks which focus on eliminating poverty and gender-based socioeconomic inequality. Reforming these systems to alleviate debt burden on countries is essential, as these are often the causes for reduced public spending which often further limits girls' access to education and healthcare. Additionally, supporting the development of a legally binding UN-led Tax Convention to close tax loopholes and help redirect tax revenue into key public services will contribute to reducing child marriage.
- Respect, protect and fulfil girls’ right to education, including by guaranteeing access to 12 years of quality, free, compulsory, safe and gender-transformative education for all girls. It is essential to end discriminatory policies and practices that exclude pregnant girls, sexuality education, ending period poverty and increasing education financing is fundamental for girls to fulfil their educational rights.
- Design and implement gender responsive budgets to realise girls’ and women’s human rights and gender equality. Governments need to design and put in place budgets that consider gender equality. This means using gender-budgeting tools and mechanisms for budget accountability, addressing fiscal biases against girls and women through the allocation of budgets to reduce intersectional socioeconomic inequalities and the adoption of tax justice measures and integrating gender and human rights impact assessments and increasing investment in child marriage programming assessments fully into national budgets and economic policies.
- Use evidence-based cash transfers programmes to protect girls at risk of child marriage. This includes developing national child marriage strategies, linking different areas of policy to work together and maximising resources for – and effectiveness of – cash transfers oriented towards ending child marriage. It is important to ensure social sector investment in accessibility and quality of education is balanced with increasing demand through an appropriate combination of cash transfer programmes, financing cash transfers and other social protection measures to ensure they cover area of high child marriage prevalence, including in humanitarian contexts and for migrant and stateless population.
- Address the gendered impact of unpaid care work, including by implementing policies that recognise, reduce, and redistribute unpaid care work. By using fiscal policy to reduce and redistribute workloads through gender-responsive taxation systems and investing in long-term social norms change work within communities to transform patriarchal gender stereotypes and relationships of power to rebalance the division of labour within the home and promote gender-equitable decision-making and leadership.
- Remove gender-based discriminatory practices in law to ensure respect for girls’ and women’s economic rights. This means ensuring gender equality in property and land ownership, inheritance, employment, credit, and/or citizenship, as well as increasing female labour force participation to ensure more girls can stay in school and avoid child marriage and encouraging and promoting political participation, representation and leadership of women and girls to be the ones creating the laws, policies and economic models that impact the daily lives of girls and women. Governments should close any legal loopholes that allow the practice of child, early and forced marriages to happen, such as informal unions, cohabitation or other arrangements that are not formalised, registered or recognised by a religious, customary or State authority.
- Provide post-child marriage support, including by putting in place social protection measures and developing economic empowerment initiatives for individuals who leave marriages that qualify or have qualified as child marriage, with a focus on providing them with sustainable livelihood options. Governments should also create specialised support services such as helplines and shelters that can provide counselling, legal advice, and rehabilitation programmes for survivors of child marriage.
- Improve data collection, by establishing appropriate systems to collect disaggregated data on the multiple dimensions of inequalities and poverty, including the impact on the levels of incidence and prevalence of child, early and forced marriages and unions.
In the time it has taken to read this article 57 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 2 seconds