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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)

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?

The most recent available data from 2006 shows that 45% of girls in Somalia are married before their 18th birthday and 8% are married before the age of 15.

Somalia has the tenth highest prevalence of child marriage globally.

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 Somalia, child marriage is exacerbated by:

  • Family honour: Somali social norms are very sensitive about the protection of girls before marriage. Parents often marry off their daughters to protect them from sexual abuse on their way to and from school.
  • Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C): Somalia is one of few countries in the world where it is estimated that almost all of women and girls have experienced Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C). This is strongly linked to attempts to control female sexuality and prepare girls for marriage.
  • Religion: As reported by UNICEF, Islamic leaders do not see protecting girls from child marriage as a priority and they avoid speaking out against forced marriages. Some leaders support the practice by reportedly giving permission for child marriages to take place.
  • Gender norms and power dynamics: About 30% of girls aged 15 to 24 marry husbands who are 10 or more years older, and about one in five women aged between 15 and 49 are in polygynous marriages. This contributes to placing women and girls in a subservient
  • Peer pressure: When one girl in a class or community marries, others often follow. This sometimes results in girls getting divorced, moving back home with their parents and “damaging” future marriage prospects.

Humanitarian settings can encompass a wide range of situations before, during, and after natural disasters, conflicts, and epidemics. They 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. For decades, Somalia has suffered from extreme weather, especially recurrent droughts and floods, and a prolonged conflict, all of which add on to widespread poverty in the country. 6.3 million people are at risk of food shortages and as of August 2018, there are 2.6 million internally displaced people in Somalia. In addition to natural disasters and food insecurity, child marriage in Somalia is exacerbated by:

  • Armed conflict: Some Somali girls are raped by armed groups and forced to marry fighters. The UN reports that Al-Shabaab (an Islamist insurgent group based in Somalia) has been particularly complicit in forcing girls into marriage. Human Rights Watch highlights that Al-Shabaab’s members use child marriage as a tactic to impose a harsh version of Sharia on every aspect of the personal lives of women and girls. Many refugee families cited leaving Somalia due to fear of forced marriage, and one girl was decapitated because she resisted marriage.
  • Displacement: Girls living in internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and forced marriage.

What has this country committed to?

Somalia has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

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

Somalia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2015, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18. Somali is one of few countries that has not signed or ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.

In 1991 Somalia signed the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage.

In 2006 Somalia signed 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.

During its 2016 Universal Periodic Review, Somalia agreed to examine recommendations to counteract serious human rights violations of women and girls, including child marriage.

In 2019, at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, the Somali Government committed to zero tolerance for gender-based violence by addressing vulnerability factors, especially among internally-displaced people, and strengthening policy and legal frameworks.

At the London Girl Summit in July 2014, the government signed a charter committing to end child marriage by 2020.

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

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

The Somali Ministry of Women and Family Affairs has drafted legislation to protect children from child marriage and FGM/C. In 2019, Somalia reported to the UN Child Rights Committee that the Sexual Offences Bill, which is currently on the floor of parliament, provides sanctions for child marriages.

The National Development Plan (2017–2019) also stated the government intention of eliminating child marriage.

The Ministry of Justice has trained some religious leaders on child marriage awareness and has provided them with templates to ensure proper documentation and action plans on minimising child marriages. It is also working to register sheikhs (religious leaders) and provide licenses for the performance of nikahs (“marriage” in Islamic law) to keep track of and control child marriage.

What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?

The provisional Somalian Constitution (2012) states that a “marriage shall not be legal without the free consent of both the man and the woman, or if either party has not reached the age of maturity.” However, the Constitution does not define the age of maturity meaning that girls could marry at any age under 18.

In addition, according to the Family Code (1975), the legal age for marriage in Somalia is 18 for both men and women. But it provides exceptions for girls to be married at age 16 or younger with a guardian’s consent.


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

African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, [website], 2018, (accessed January 2020).

Council on Foreign Relations, Al-Shabab, [website], (accessed February 2020).

European Commission, Somalia, [website], 2020, (accessed February 2020). 

Federal Government of Somalia, National Development Plan, (accessed February 2020).

Girl Summit 2014, The Girl Summit Charter on Ending FGM and Child, Early and Forced Marriage, [website], 2015, (accessed January 2020).

Global Partnership for Education, Somalia, [website], (accessed February 2020).

Human Rights Watch, No Place for Children Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage, and Attacks on Schools in Somali, 2012, (accessed January 2020).

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Joint statement on child, early and forced marriage, HRC 27, Agenda Item 3, [website], 2014, (accessed February 2020).

Nairobi Summit, Somalia’s Statement of Commitment, [website], 2019, (accessed February 2020).

OECD, Social Institutions and Gender Index 2019,Somalia, 2019, (accessed January 2020).

Save the Children, Preventing Child Marriage in Somaliland, 2016, (accessed February 2020).

The Federal Republic of Somalia, Provisional Constitution, 2012, (accessed January 2020).

UN Child Rights Committee, Initial report submitted by Somalia under article 44 of the Convention, due in 2017, CRC/C/SOM/1, 2019,p. 13, (accessed February 2020).

UN General Assembly, Compilation prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in accordance with paragraph 15 (b) of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1 and paragraph 5 of the annex to Council resolution 16/21 Somalia, 2015, p.24, (accessed February 2020).

UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Somalia, 2016, (accessed February 2020).

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Somalia, [website], (accessed February 2020).

UNICEF, Situation Analysis of Children in Somalia, 2016, (accessed January 2020).

UNICEF global databases 2020, based on Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), and other national surveys. Population data from United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2019). World Population Prospects 2019, Online Edition. Rev. 1.

UNICEF, Somalia Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2006, 2007, (accessed January 2020).

UNICEF, UNICEF Somalia Annual Report, 2016, (accessed February 2020).

United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, (accessed February 2020).

* 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)