What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?
Child marriage occurs predominantly among the Roma population and Hungarian communities.
Child marriage is most prevalent in Southern and Eastern Serbia, Sumadija and the Western region and Vojvodina.
Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?
Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that women and girls are somehow inferior to men and boys. In Serbia, child marriage is also driven by:
- Poverty: 19% of girls living in Serbia’s poorest households marry before the age of 18, compared to only 4% in the richest households. Arranged marriage within Roma communities involves the payment of money or livestock to a girl’s family. This sometimes incentivises families facing financial difficulties to marry off their daughters at a young age.
- Level of education: Roma girls are at particular risk of dropping out of school around the ages of 12 to 14, which increases their risk of marrying young. This is driven by a belief that girls should prepare for marital life and motherhood.
- Gender norms: Engaging in pre-marital sex can bring shame to Roma families. Child marriage is sometimes used as a way to preserve a girl’s honour.
What has this country committed to?
Serbia has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 the Sustainable Development Goals.
Serbia co-sponsored the 2017 Human Rights Council resolution recognising the need to address child, early and forced marriage in humanitarian contexts, and the 2015 Human Rights Council resolution to end child, early and forced marriage, recognising that it is a violation of human rights.
Serbia co-sponsored the 2013 and 2014 and UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage, and the 2013 Human Rights Council resolution on child, early and forced marriage. In 2014, Serbia signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.
Serbia deposited the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2001, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2001, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
In 2013 the CEDAW Committee stated that no progress had been achieved in preventing child marriage among the Roma and other minority groups in Serbia. It recommended that the government take all measures necessary to raise awareness about the negative effect of child marriage among these communities.
What is the government doing to address this at the national level?
In 2016 the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs announced the adoption of the Strategy for the Social Inclusion of Roma in the Republic of Serbia 2016-2025. The strategy outlines targets for preventing the number of child marriages and adolescent pregnancies in the Roma community.
This builds on Serbia’s National Action Plan (2010-2015) for the implementation of the National Strategy for the Improvement of the Status of Women and Promotion of Gender Equality, which included measures aimed at recognising, preventing and solving the practice of child marriage and bride selling.
What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?
Under the Family Law 2005 the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years. However individuals can marry at 16 years with permission of the court.
The Criminal Code stipulates that an adult living in a common-law marriage with a minor shall be punished by imprisonment for a term of between three months and three years or, if the criminal offence was committed for gain, for a term of between six months and five years.
During 2011, 123 people were reported for marriage with a minor. 59 were convicted, but of these, 47 cases were suspended, four people received unconditional prison sentences, three were sentenced to a fine, three to a community order, one was warned, and one was found guilty but freed without punishment. These statistics clearly portray the lenient treatment that child marriage offenders receive in the criminal justice system.
Government of the Republic of Serbia, Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit, Roma Inclusion Strategy Adopted, [website], 2016, (accessed March 2018)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Joint statement on child, early and forced marriage, HRC 27, Agenda Item 3, [website], 2014, (accessed April 2018)
Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia and UNICEF, Serbia Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey and Serbia Roma Settlements Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 2014, Final Reports, 2014, (accessed March 2018)
UNFPA, Child Marriage in Serbia (Overview), 2014, (accessed March 2018)
UN CEDAW, Concluding observations on the combined 2nd and 3rd periodic reports of Serbia, 2013, p.12, (accessed March 2018)
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 44 of the Convention, Second and third periodic reports of States parties due in 2013: Serbia, 2016, (accessed March 2018)
United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, (accessed February 2018)
* 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)