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Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
International Ranking*


* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

Photo credit: APSEF

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
International Ranking*


* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?

54% of girls in Mali are married before the age of 18 and 16% are married before their 15th birthday.

Mali has the fifth highest prevalence rate of child marriage globally.

2% of boys in Mali are married before their 18th birthday.

In 2018, UN Women identified hotspot for child marriage in Kayes (70.9%), Sikasso (63.7%), and Mopti (64.5%). While nearly all the other regions have at least 60% prevalence of child marriage, it is mainly concentrated in the southwestern part of the country, which is rural and has high rates of poverty.

A 2017 World Bank/ICRW study estimated that ending child marriage in Mali could generate and additional USD 174.8 million in productivity gains.

Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?

Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys.

Mali’s humanitarian situation continues to worsen. In recent years, Mali has been gripped by escalating violence that has spread across some West and Central African countries. Clashes between government forces and armed groups linked to ISIL and al-Qaeda compromised the education and health systems, and forced thousands to flee their homes. This has led to increased rates of school dropouts and violence against women and girls, including child marriage. At the end of 2019, there was 3.6 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and almost 208,000 internally displaced people.

Humanitarian settings like in Mali exacerbate poverty, insecurity, and lack of access to services such as education, factors which all drive child marriage. While gender inequality is a root cause of child marriage in both stable and crisis contexts, often in times of crisis, families see child marriage as a way to cope with greater economic hardship and to protect girls from increased violence. In Mali, child marriage is exacerbated by:

  • Armed conflict: A surge in conflict in Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal in 2012 destabilised Mali and had a huge impact on girls. Many were victims of rape and forced marriage by terrorists and armed groups, with some cases of sexual slavery reported by the UN. The ongoing instability and conflict continue to impact on the prevalence of child marriage in Mali.
  • Poverty: Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. Available MICS data from 2015 revealed that 51% of women in its poorest households were married before the age of 18, compared to 36% in the richest households. Some parents marry off their daughters at a young age to give them what they perceived will be a better life, reduce their perceived economic burden and because they can demand a higher bride price. This practice continues promoting the belief that girls are the property of their husbands.
  • Level of education: According to MICS data from 2015, 50% of women who only completed primary education were married before the age of 18, compared to 18% who had completed the second cycle of secondary education.
  • Harmful traditional practices: In some parts of Southern Mali, the practice of bride kidnapping is widespread. The abducted girl has no alternative but to marry the perpetrator, otherwise she will face stigmatisation because people will assume that she has been raped and has lost her highly valued virginity.
  • Family honour: Islam, the most widespread religion in the country, sets strict religious taboos regarding female sexuality and purity in Mali. Many parents force girls into marriage as a means of avoiding the shame of sex and pregnancy out of wedlock.
  • Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C): 89% of women and girls in Mali have undergone FGM. FGM/C is practiced by Muslim, Christian and Animist communities in Mali, and is sometimes considered a symbol of a girl’s readiness for marriage.

Polygamy: Child brides in Mali are often likely to be a second, third or fourth bride, and are perceived to be more submissive and easier to control due to their young age.

What has this country committed to?

Mali has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. However the government did not report on progress made against target 5.3 during its 2018 Voluntary National Review at the High Level Political Forum, the mechanism through which countries report their progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mali co-sponsored the 2013, 2014 and 2018 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage, and signed a joint statement at the 2014 Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.

Mali ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1985, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.

In 2017 the CEDAW Committee raised concerns about child marriages committed by extremist groups and members of the military in Mali, and the resulting impunity for perpetrators. 

In its 2018 Universal Periodic Review, Mali supported recommendations to strengthen the implementation of legislation and policies aimed at ending harmful traditional practices, in particular child, early and forced marriage, and align the minimum age of marriage for girls with international standards to 18 as opposed to 16.


In 1998 Mali ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage.

In 2005 Mali ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, including Article 6 which sets the minimum age for marriage as 18.

As a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in 2017 Mali adopted the Strategic Framework for Strengthening National Child Protection Systems under which protecting children from marriage is a priority. In June 2019, the ECOWAS Heads of State endorsed the ECOWAS Child Policy and Strategic Action Plan and the 2019-2030 Roadmap on prevention and response to child marriage.

In addition, in July 2019, the ECOWAS First Ladies signed “The Niamey Declaration: Call to End Child Marriage and to promote the Education and empowerment of Girls”, calling Member States to initiate legislative, institutional and budgetary reforms to implement the Roadmap.

Mali is one of the countries where the Spotlight Initiative (a global, multi-year partnership between the European Union and the United Nations) is supporting efforts to end all forms of sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls. 

Mali is a partner country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

What is the government doing to address this at the national level?

In 2015, as part of the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa, Mali launched its national campaign titled “Education for girls: a means to eliminating early child marriage”. The campaign is spearheaded by the First Lady and emphasises the need to keep girls in school to tackle child marriage. A National Committee to coordinate and monitor the actions and commitments of the African Union Campaign was formed in June 2017.

According to UN Women in Mali, a draft law against gender-based violence, which criminalises female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage, was developed by civil society and scheduled to be brought before the National Assembly by the Ministry of Gender and Justice in 2018. However, as of beginning of 2020, there are no updates on the passing of this law.

In January 2017 the First Lady Keïta Aminata Maïga hosted a meeting on adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health at the high level France-Africa summit in Bamako.

Save the Children, in partnership with Oxfam Novib, under the “More Than Brides Alliance” is working to end child marriage through multiple strategies including: empowering at-risk and already married adolescents with life-skills education, comprehensive sexuality education, and sexual and reproductive health and rights information; providing alternatives to early marriage through enhancing access to education, economic opportunities, and child protection systems; increasing sexual and reproductive health services; changing social norms; and influencing legal and policy frameworks.

Mali is also one of 11 countries working to create child marriage-free communities by 2020 as part of the Her Choice Alliance.

What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?

Under the Code of Persons and the Family 2011, the minimum legal age of marriage in Malawi is 16 years for girls and 18 years for boys. However individuals older than 15 years old can marry with the authorisation of the Chief de Circonscription Administrative and parental consent.

In addition, most customary marriages are unregistered especially those involving children as they lack birth registration documents.


African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, [website], 2018, (accessed January 2020).

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Code Des Personnes Et De La Famille, 2011, (accessed March 2020).

ECOWAS, ECOWAS First Ladies affirm Commitment to End Child Marriage and Promote Girl-Child Education in the Region, [website], 2019, (accessed January 2020).

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* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)