- 90% of births to adolescents take place within the context of marriage. [i]
- Complications arising from pregnancy and childbirth are among the leading causes of death in girls aged 15-19. [ii]
- Girls who marry before age 15 are 50% more likely to suffer from intimate partner violence than those who marry later. [iii]
- Girls are most likely to have undergone both female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and child marriage in Sudan (53%), Somaliland (52%), Sierra Leone (37%), Burkina Faso (39%), and Ethiopia (36%). [iv]
Impacts of child marriage on girls' health
Child marriage can lead to girls having sex before they are physically and emotionally ready, and when they know little about their own sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Child marriage is a key driver of adolescent pregnancy – which carries serious health risks – and can increase the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections and experiencing gender-based violence (GBV). In some contexts, child marriage is also closely linked to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), which is a human rights violation and is damaging to girls’ physical and mental health.
Reducing child marriage will help to improve the health of millions of girls and women, and their children.
- [i] UNFPA, 2015, Girlhood, not motherhood: Preventing adolescent pregnancy, New York: UNFPA.
- [ii] WHO, 2016, Global health estimates 2015: deaths by cause, age, sex, by country and by region, 2000–2015, Geneva: WHO.
- [iii] WHO, 2016, Global health estimates 2015: deaths by cause, age, sex, by country and by region, 2000–2015, Geneva: WHO.
- [iv] Population Council, 2020, Evidence Brief- Exploring the association between FGM/C and Early/Child marriage.
Child marriage is both a cause and consequence of adolescent pregnancy: 90% of adolescent births in the developing world are to girls who are already married or in a union. In many cases, child marriage is a driver of early pregnancy; in others – particularly where sex outside of marriage is taboo –unintended pregnancy drives child marriage.
Around 1 in 3 women and girls experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Child marriage is a manifestation of this violence, putting women and girls at increased risk of sexual, physical, and psychological violence and related outcomes – like poor health and depression –throughout their lives.
Adolescent girls are disproportionately affected by HIV. Globally, 3 in 5 new infections among 15- to 24-year-olds concern girls and young women. Some of the factors which put girls at risk of HIV are the same as those that put them at risk of child marriage.
Female genital mutilation/cutting
Child marriage and FGM/C are both human rights violations and harmful practices. Both are driven by gender norms linked to controlling women and girls’ sexuality, and maintaining social and religious norms. FGM/C can be a precursor to child marriage.
Insights for prioritising adolescent girls' health
Married and unmarried girls have multiple, interlinked health needs. These need to be met in a comprehensive, multi-sectoral way. Successful approaches combine demand generation at the community and individual level with the provision of youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health care.
Girls' health and the SDGs
Governments across the world have committed to achieving 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The goals seek to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure we can all enjoy peace and prosperity. Goal 3 includes targets on good health and wellbeing, which will not be met unless we address child marriage.
Use our directory to find Girls Not Brides member organisations working on issues related to child marriage and health. You can contact organisations in your country or across the world to share best practice and learnings.
Child marriage and SRHR
Developed by Girls Not Brides, this infographic and thematic brief outline the links between child marriage and SRHR.
Child marriage and maternal health
This brief takes a look at child marriage and the detrimental impact it can have on maternal health.
Child marriage and FGM/C: What you need to know
Child marriage and HIV
This Girls Not Brides infographic looks at the links between child marriage and HIV/AIDS.