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Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
* 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?
6% of boys are married before their 18th birthday.
Uganda has the 14th highest absolute number of women married or in a union before the age of 18 in the world – 723,000.
Customary marriages or informal marriages, where a girl lives with an older man, are significantly more common than registered civil or religious marriages. In addition, 10.6% of currently married 15-19 years old girls are married to men who have two or more wives.
A World Bank/ICRW study estimated that ending child marriage in Uganda would generate USD 14.48 million in earnings for Ugandan women who married early.
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.
In Uganda, child marriage is exacerbated by:
- Poverty and lack of opportunities: Girls living in Uganda’s poorest households marry at a younger age than those living in the richest households. Some parents, especially in rural areas, see their daughter as a source of wealth as they can fetch bride price from the husband’s family, while relieving the financial burden on the family. In highly vulnerable households, some Ugandan girls seek marriage to cover basic needs, such as sanitary products.
- Level of education: Early marriage and teenage pregnancy are linked to low levels of secondary school retention for girls. Some parents in Uganda feel that educating a girl is a waste of time and resources when she will ultimately marry and gain lifelong security.
- Traditional harmful practices: Arranged marriages for girls are common, often as a way to consolidate powerful relations among families. Some families marry off their daughters to protect them from early sexual encounters and safeguard the family’s dignity. Studies have also found that communities perceived girls to be ready for marriage when they develop breasts or when they have started menstruating. Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) is also considered a sign of readiness for marriage.
- Adolescent pregnancy: Adolescent pregnancy precipitates child marriage and is also a consequence of it. Uganda has one the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy in the world, which is the result of both consensual and forced sex. Girls who become pregnant while still in school are often forced to drop out. Without education, and because pregnancy outside of marriage is stigmatised and associated with embarrassment or disgrace, they and their parents may see marriage as the only option – for both the girl and the boy or man who impregnates her.
- Intergenerational and transactional relationships: These are relatively common in Uganda. For some girls, having a man, typically older, who is able to provide food, clothing, school fees and other material goods is seen as desirable and an escape route out of poverty. In many cases, these relationships are seen as consensual but, in reality girls may find themselves vulnerable with regard to such relationships, which can lead to long term arrangements including child marriage and early motherhood.
- Orphanhood: In Uganda, orphaned girls have greater odds of early marriage. 32% of households in Uganda have foster or orphaned children. Caregivers of orphaned or foster children who find it difficult to meet the needs of the family may resort to early marriage to relieve financial pressures. Additionally, girls in households headed by children (below age 18) are more vulnerable to being married early than those in households headed by adults.
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. These factors can drive child marriage and, 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 2019, Uganda hosted more than 1.3 million refugees, making it the country with the largest refugee population in Africa. As well as internally displaced Ugandans, most refugees come from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan, and Burundi.
Displacement: child marriage is reportedly more prevalent among those internally displaced and refugees. A 2016 study among internally displaced Ugandans found that child marriage provides families with legal protection from defilement (sex with a girl under 18) which is a crime in Uganda. Within the camps, child marriages are organised in a hasty manner.
What has this country committed to?
Uganda has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. In its 2016 Voluntary National Review, Uganda provided baseline data on the situation for child marriage
Uganda co-sponsored the 2013, 2014 and 2018 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage, and also co-sponsored the 2013 Human Rights Council resolution on child, early and forced marriage. In 2014, Uganda signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.
Uganda 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 in 1985, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
During its 2016 Universal Periodic Review, Uganda supported recommendations to implement the action plan to more effectively combat child marriage.
In 1994, Uganda ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage. In 2010, Uganda 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.
In 2015 Uganda launched the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa.
Uganda is one of 20 countries which has committed to ending child marriage by the end of 2020 under the Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa.
At the London Girl Summit in July 2014, the government signed a charter committing to end child marriage by 2020.
In 2019, at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, Uganda committed to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of girls’ empowerment, including teenage pregnancy and child marriage, through education reform and reproductive health and family planning services.
Uganda is one of the countries where the Spotlight Initiative (a global, multi-year partnership between European Union and United Nations) is supporting efforts to end all forms of sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls. Uganda is also one of the countries where the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/DREAMS Initiative is working to reduce rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women.
Uganda is a pathfinder country for the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children and a partner country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
Uganda 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 government doing to address this at the national level?
In 2015, the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development launched the National Strategy on Ending Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy (2014/15 – 2019/20), which was developed in partnership with Girls Not Brides members and UN agencies. In 2018, the strategy was spread to 113 sub-counties in 15 districts, all of which made commitments in their 2019–2020 district budgets to ending child marriage.
With the National Strategy coming to an end in 2020, it is currently being reviewed and evaluated to inform a new Strategy development in 2021.
Uganda is a focus country of the UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage. As part of the Global Programme, in 2018 more than 114000 adolescent girls were reached with life skills education intended to keep girls in school, and more than 37500 people participated in community dialogues on adolescent issues such as child marriage.
Numerous other policies have addressed child marriage at national level, including:
- The Second National Development Plan (2015/16 – 2019/20), renewed the commitment to reduce early marriages and adolescent pregnancies by retaining children in school and providing adolescent reproductive health services.
- The Gender in Education Policy (2009), which pledges to facilitate the re-entry of girls who drop out of school as a result of child marriage.
- The National Population Policy, which acknowledged child marriage as a negative cultural practice and the need to address it.
- The National Strategy for Girls’ Education (NSGE) inUganda (2015 – 2019), which acknowledged early marriages as a critical challenge and intends to create a framework to tackle it, along with adolescent pregnancy.
- The National Multi-Sectoral Coordination Framework for Adolescent Girls, launched in 2018, aims to eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination against adolescent girls and places child marriage among the top nine “key issues” facing girls in the country.
- A Multi-Sectoral Communication for Development (C4D) Strategy for Adolescent Girls was also issued to support the priorities of this Framework, and also includes strategies to lessen the practice.
- The first National Sexuality Education Framework, launched in 2018 by the Uganda’s Ministry of Education. It aims to guide a national response to sexuality education in schools. While UNFPA and UNICEF were involved in the development of the Framework, it has received some criticism for, among other things, pushing traditional gender norms and advocating an abstinence-only approach.
The Presidential Initiative for AIDS Strategy for Communication to Youth has been integrated into the National Strategy on Ending Child Marriage and Teen Pregnancy and rolled out in 11 districts.
What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?
Under the Children’s Act 2016 the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years as it defines child marriage as “any union whether formal or informal involving any person below the age of 18 years for the purpose of living as husband and wife”.
In addition, Article 31 of the (amended) Ugandan Constitution sets the minimum legal age of marriage for both women and men at 18.
However, the legal framework for marriage in Uganda is complex and it is unclear how provisions in civil, religious and customary law interact with each other:
- The Marriage Act (1904) for civil marriages sets the legal age of marriage is 21 years for women and men, but they can be married with parental consent at 18 years.
- Customary Marriage (Registration) Act sets the minimum age of marriage at 16 for girls and 18 for boys.
- The Hindu Marriage and Divorce Act (1961) Cap 250 sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 for boys and 16 for girls. Girls aged 16 require parental consent to be married.
The Marriage and Divorce of Mohammedans Act 1906 does not set a minimum age of marriage.
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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)
National Partnership in Uganda
Girls Not Brides Uganda is the official Girls Not Brides National Partnership in Uganda.
Members In Uganda
- Acacia Tree Child and Family Services
- Access Youth Initiative Uganda (AYI-Uganda)
- ACI Finance (U)
- Action for Behavioural Change (ABC)
- Action for Community Development Uganda (ACODEV-U)
- Action for Development in Underserved Areas (ADUA)
- Action for Development of Grassroots Communities (ADEGCO)
- Action for Women and Awakening in Rural Environment (AWARE UGANDA)
- Action for Youth Development Uganda (ACOYDE)
- Africa Community Connect (ACCON)
- Africa Foundation for Community Development (AFCOD-Uganda)
- African Partners for Child Poverty
- African Women Service Trust (AWOST)
- Agape of Hope – Female Youth Development Association
- Agoro Community Development Association
- Alliance for Community Transformation Uganda (ACT UGANDA)
- Alliance for Development (AFODE)
- Allied Youth Initiative
- Amani Initiative
- Amara Hub
- Amref Health Africa
- Amuria Youth Alliance Development Organization (AYADO)
- Association for Community Empowerment Solutions (ACES)
- Basic Needs Awareness Organisation Uganda (BAOU)
- Blessed Child Care Foundation
- Bulogo Women’s Group
- Bunyama Child Care Initiative
- Bunyoro Youth Development Educators Association (BUYODEA)
- Center for Civic Growth (CCIGO)
- Centre for Adolescent Reproductive Health (CEFARH)
- Centre for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Africa (CESCRA)
- Child Aid Uganda
- Child Care And Youth Empowerment Foundation (CCAYEF)
- Child Empowerment Programme (CEP)
- Child Link Foundation-Uganda (CLF)
- Child Rights Development Foundation (CRIDEF)
- Child Rights Empowerment and Development Organization (CEDO)
- Coalition of Uganda Private School Teachers Association (COUPSTA)
- Community Awareness and Response on AIDS (CARA)
- Community Care Foundation-Uganda (CCFU)
- Community Empowerment and Education Projects Initiative (CEEPI)
- Community Health Access Foundation Uganda (CHAF-U)
- Community Hope Development Foundation (CHDF)
- Concern for the Girl Child (CGC)
- Eagles Youth Development Initiative (EYDI)
- Educate a Child International
- Education & Development Opportunity
- Efforts Integrated Development Foundation (EINTEDEF)
- Elgon Child Watch Initiatives
- Enforcement of Patients and Health Workers’ Rights (EPHWOR)
- Foundation for Orphans and Vulnerable Communities in Uganda (FOVC-Uganda)
- Foundation for Women in Development-Rwenzori (FOWID-R)
- Gender, Environment and Development Action (GEDA Uganda)
- Girl Child Network Worldwide
- Girl Rescue Foundation (GRF)
- Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU)
- Girls In School Initiative
- Girls to Lead Africa (GTLA)
- Give Hope Uganda
- Global Batwa Outreach
- Good Samaritan Women’s Project
- Health Care and Social Development Organization
- Health Promotion and Rights Watch
- Help African Girl Child Uganda
- Hope Foundation
- Hope of Young Mothers Development Initiative (HOMODI)
- Human Rights and Democracy Link (RIDE) Africa
- Ibanda Child Foundation
- Joy for Children Uganda (JFCU)
- Joy Initiatives Uganda (JOYI Uganda)
- KAANA Foundation for Outreach Programs
- Kabale Women in Development (KWID)
- Kids Club Kampala
- Kikorongo Women Community (KWC)
- Kiruhura Women Development Agency (K-WIDE)
- Link Education International
- Lower Cell Poultry Farmers Association (LCPF)
- Luhwahwa Youth Development Foundation (LUYODEFO)
- Manafwa Rural Development Initiative (MARUDI)
- Mentoring and Empowerment Programme for Young Women (MEMPROW)
- Mpigi Women with Disabilities Association (MPWDA)
- MUB – Home Foundation
- Mutyabule Foundation
- Nabirye Foundation
- Network for Community Development
- Pearl Integrated Development Agency (PIDA)
- Peer to Peer Uganda
- People’s Action for Development of Africa (PADA)
- Philomena United Women Art and Craft Group (PUWACG)
- Pick Your Dream – Uganda
- Raising Teenagers Uganda (RTU)
- Rape Hurts Foundation (RHF)
- Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI)
- Rhythm of Life (ROL)
- Rugby Tackling Life (RTL)
- Rural Disabled Women Association (RUDIWA)
- Rural Elites Mentorship Initiative East Africa (REMI East Africa)
- Rural Focus Initiative Uganda (RUFI-U)
- Rural Youth Initiative for Development (RYID)
- Rwenzori Center for Research and Advocacy (RCRA)
- Rwenzori Peace Bridge of Reconciliation
- Rwenzori Pro-Life & Child care Foundation
- Rwenzori Rural Empowerment Foundation (RREF)
- Rwenzori Youth Leaders’ Network (RYLN)
- Sabiny Transformation Trust Initiative (STTI)
- Save Street Children Uganda (SASCU)
- Save the Marginalised Uganda (STM)
- Scope Foundation
- Seeds for African Children (SFAC)
- Shalom Women’s Development Initiative Agency
- Share Child Opportunity Eastern and Northern Uganda (SCOEN)
- Shines Children’s Foundation (SCF)
- Silcreation Uganda Network (SUN)
- Social Empowerment and Legal Aid Foundation (SELAFUG)
- Soroti Girls Rights Initiative (SGRI)
- Strengthening Hope and Resilience Empowerment (SHARE)
- Sule Integrated Development Organization (SIDO)
- Teenage Mothers and Child Support Foundation
- The Hunger Project
- The Rego Foundation
- Train A Child Train a Nation Uganda (TCTN)
- Trust and Care For The Needy Children Ministries Uganda
- Two Hands One Life
- Uganda for her Initiative
- Uganda Girl Guides Association (UGGA)
- Uganda Rural Information and Communication Technology / Education Center (URICT-Uganda)
- Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum (UYAHF)
- Uganda Youth Network (UYONET)
- United Children Integrated Development Action Uganda (UNCIDA)
- Universal Health Development Foundation (UHDF)
- Visionary Lady Foundation (VLF)
- VSO International
- Wakisa Ministries
- Wilmat Development Foundation (WDF)
- Women Empowerment Program (WEP)
- Women of Uganda Network (Wougnet)
- Women Participatory Development Initiative (WOPADI)
- World Action Fund
- Yes Empowerment Services
- Young Women’s Initiative for Development (Ywide)
- Youth and Women Initiative for Sustainable Development (YWISD)
- Youth Empowerment Trust
- Youth Fraternity for Change (YFC-Uganda)
- Youth Partnership Uganda
- Youth Pot Charity Limited