Child marriage and humanitarian contexts
An overview of the key facts, drivers and consequences of child marriage in humanitarian contexts, and recommendations on how to prioritise girls and end the practice in times of crisis.
- The 10 countries with the highest child marriage prevalence rates are either fragile or extremely fragile.
- 12 out of the 20 countries with the highest child marriage prevalence rates face the most severe humanitarian crises.
- The prevalence of child marriage increases during crises, with a 20% rise reported in Yemen and South Sudan as a result of conflicts.
- Despite the increased risk of child marriage, very little humanitarian funding focuses on the issue. Only 0.12% of all humanitarian funding went to address gender-based violence from 2016-18.
For more key facts, examples and solutions from around the world, see our Child marriage in humanitarian contexts brief.
Drivers of child marriage during humanitarian crises
Millions of lives are torn apart by conflict, forced displacement and natural disasters around the world. Girls face some of the most severe impacts.
Humanitarian crises can increase inequalities – including harmful gender norms, poverty and access to basic services such as sexual and reproductive healthcare – and put girls at greater risk of child marriage.
Child marriage is seen as a way out of poverty
Families who lose their jobs and livelihoods during a crisis can see child marriage as a way to relieve economic hardship and as a temporary coping mechanism to ensure girls’ financial security. In these cases, child marriage is a financial transaction and is decided based on short-term economic reasons. Find out more on our Economic justice learning page.
Child marriage is seen as a way to protect girls from violence
Physical and sexual violence increase during crises. When displaced from their homes, girls’ social networks break down and they lose access to protection systems.
Girls may enter informal unions with older men in the hope of reuniting with family members who have already migrated to neighbouring countries.
Some parents view marriage as a way to protect girls from sexual violence or to protect the family’s honour. They are often unaware of the violence that girls will face within marriage. Find out more about gender-based violence on our Health learning page.
Child marriage is used as a weapon of war
In war zones and countries with high levels of violence, children may be forcibly recruited by non-state armed groups. Girls and women are at particular risk of sexual violence and trafficking – including forced prostitution and slavery – and child marriage can be used as a cover for this. Parents may marry their daughters to try and protect them.
Natural hazards increase the risk of child marriage
Over recent decades, climate change has triggered extreme weather events – including floods, droughts and cyclones – causing acute and protracted crises. These have affected economies and social structures. Countries with high vulnerability to climate “shocks” often also have high rates of child marriage.
Child marriage is often an indirect consequence of disease outbreaks
The recent Ebola and COVID-19 outbreaks have highlighted the disproportionate impacts of disease outbreaks on girls and women. Lockdowns and curfews implemented to slow disease transmission are linked to increases in violence against women and girls, child neglect and sexual violence, and disrupted access to education and family planning.
An estimated 10 million more girls will be married as children over the next 10 years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Find out more on our COVID-19 learning page.
Prioritising girls during humanitarian crises
To accelerate progress to end child marriage and support married girls, we need to increase action in humanitarian settings. This means focusing on girls’ needs and coordinating action across all sectors – including with development actors – from the earliest stages of a crisis. Key actors include governments, UN agencies and civil society organisations.
Some priorities are:
- Donors and national governments should increase support for adolescent girls and their families in development and humanitarian contexts. This means greater investments in education, economic assistance, gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health and rights programmes.
- All actors should work with girls, their families and community leaders to address harmful gender norms and promote girls’ voice, choice and control. This will complement investments in basic services.
- UN agencies and cluster leads should address child marriage in humanitarian assessments and programming. Child marriage must be integrated within the child protection and/or GBV areas of responsibility, and integrated within education and health cluster responses to ensure a comprehensive and multi-sectoral response for all girls.
- Development partners should increase the focus on nationally-led responses to humanitarian crises – including the participation of community-based organisations working on gender equality and child rights – to identify and respond to the needs of girls and women.
- All actors need to increase evidence and learning on what works to end child marriage in different contexts, including through evaluations of existing programmes.
For more recommendations and examples of successful programming to address child marriage during humanitarian crises, see our brief on child marriage in humanitarian contexts.
Child marriage in humanitarian contexts
This brief summarises what we know about child marriage in humanitarian contexts and where we need to accelerate action to meet global development targets by 2030.
Addressing child marriage in marginalised refugee communities
Case study highlighting the importance of mobilising families and communities to end child marriage in marginalised communities in Lebanon, particularly those in refugee camps.
Child marriage within the global humanitarian system
Find others working on the issue
There are a growing number of organisations working to address child marriage in humanitarian contexts and opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and joint advocacy at a national, regional and global level. Girls Not Brides supports member organisations to work collectively and share best practice on these issues.