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Efforts to improve access to family planning need to stop ignoring child brides

10 July, 2017

LONDON – “Child brides are often forgotten when it comes to family planning services. Unless we make increased efforts to include them and also to end child marriage, we won’t make progress on family planning goals,” said Girls Not Brides chair Mabel van Oranje as policymakers, donors and advocates from around the world gather for the Family Planning Summit in London, UK, on 11 July.

Girls Not Brides is urging the global community to ensure that family planning programmes integrate efforts to address child marriage and improve access to services for married girls.

Ms van Oranje, who will be moderating a panel on adolescent health at the Summit, said that this joined-up approach is desperately needed.

“Child brides have an enormous unmet need for contraception and are incredibly vulnerable to the complications of early pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and even death during child birth,” she said. “Girls who marry before the age of 18 are forced into sexual activity when their bodies are still developing. Decisions about safe sex and family planning are out of their control. We need to make special efforts to ensure that child brides have access to the services that they so desperately need. Their situation shows that we can’t expect to achieve our family planning goals if we are not helping girls avoid child marriage in the first place.”

Evidence shows that girls under the age of 18 who are married or in a union have both the lowest use of contraception and the highest levels of unmet need. As child brides often face intense social pressure to bear children, they are also more likely to give birth at an early age; 90% of births to adolescents in developing countries are to girls who are already married.

New research from the World Bank found that ending child marriage would result in significant decreases in birth rates around the world. This would have a massive positive impact not only on the lives of girls, but also on economies: by 2030, it is estimated that the world could reap annual welfare gains of more than US$500 million.

Patrick Mwesigye of the Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum, a Girls Not Brides member organisation working to improve access to health services for young people in Uganda, said preventing child marriage could dramatically improve maternal and child health for millions of girls and children worldwide.

Around the world, 15 million girls each year are married before they reach the age of 18. The relationship between child marriage and adolescent pregnancy varies across contexts: whilst girls usually become pregnant shortly after marrying, they can also be pushed into marriage due to an unplanned pregnancy.

“We must act now to end child marriage and give married girls access to high quality family planning services” said Ms van Oranje. “Girls need to be empowered to understand their rights, and should be given the necessary information to make informed decisions about their bodies, and their futures.”

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For interviews with Mabel van Oranje – Chair – Girls Not Brides; Lakshmi Sundaram – Executive Director – Girls Not Brides, Patrick Mwesigye, Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum, please contact Jennifer Woodside, Director of External Relations, Girls Not Brides: / +44 (0) 7341 478 297

Notes to editors

Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 750 civil society organisations from over 90 countries united by a commitment to work in partnership to end child marriage and enable girls to fulfil their potential. In consultation with more than 150 members, partners and experts, Girls Not Brides created a common Theory of Change, which outlines the range of approaches needed to end child marriage.

  • Pregnancy and complications in childbirth are the leading cause of death among 15 to 19 year old girls globally. [1]
  • Adolescent birth rates are highest where child marriage is most common: 95% of the world’s births to adolescents occur in developing countries. 90% of these adolescent births are to girls already married or in a union.[2]
  • Child marriage encourages the initiation of sexual activity at an age when girls’ bodies are still developing and when they know little about their sexual and reproductive health and rights, including their right to access family planning.[3]
  • Child brides become mothers at an early age, often because they are under intense social pressure to prove their fertility. They are more likely to experience early, frequent and often unwanted pregnancies.
  • Many girls, especially those who are married or living with older partners, lack the confidence to assert their preferences and needs, particularly when it comes to negotiating safe sexual practices and using family planning.
  • Where girls survive childbirth, they are at increased risk of post pregnancy-related complications. For example, 65% of all cases of obstetric fistula occur in girls under the age of 18.[4]
  • Early childbearing also increases the risks to newborn babies. In low and middle income countries, babies born to mothers under 20 years of age have a 50% higher risk of being stillborn or of dying within the first few weeks of life than those born to older women. They are more likely to have a low birth weight which can cause long-term health effects.[5]
  • By accelerating cross-sectoral efforts to prevent child marriage, and addressing the social determinants of adolescent pregnancy – including tradition, gender roles and inequality, poverty, insecurity, lack of alternative opportunities for girls – we can make significant progress in family planning efforts and maternal, new-born and child health. [6]


[1] WHO, Global Accelerated Action for the Health of Adolescents (AA-HA!): Guidance to support country implementation, 2017

[2] UNFPA, Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the challenge of adolescent pregnancy, State of World Population, 2013

[3] UNFPA, Marrying too Young, End Child Marriage, 2012

[4] WHO retrieved from: Jan 2016

[5] WHO Guidelines, Preventing early pregnancy and poor reproductive outcomes among adolescents in developing countries, 2011, UNFPA, Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the challenge of adolescent pregnancy, State of World Population, 2013

[6] WHO Guidelines, Preventing early pregnancy and poor reproductive outcomes among adolescents in developing countries, 2011