Child marriage and gender

Child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and violates girls’ rights to health, education and economic opportunity. Here you will find an overview of the key facts, links, impacts and transformative approaches to end child marriage and achieve gender equality.

Photo: Girls Not Brides

Ending child marriage is crucial to gender equality

Gender-transformative approaches

Ending child marriage means ending gender inequality in all public and private spaces. It means transforming gendered norms and rebalancing power so girls and women can enjoy equal status with boys and men. Approaches must be rights-based, comprehensive, multisectoral, intersectional and have girls at their centre.

Gender-based violence

Around 1 in 3 girls and women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.[v] Child marriage is a manifestation of this violence, putting girls and women at increased risk of sexual, physical and psychological violence and related outcomes – like poor health and depression – throughout their lives.

Bodily autonomy, health and rights

Girls who marry or cohabit as if married before the age of 18, are more likely to have early pregnancies, experience dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, acquire HIV, and experience domestic violence. Ending child marriage will improve the health and rights of millions of girls, and their children.

Economic justice and rights

Girls may marry as children because of extreme poverty and gender norms that devalue and commodify them. Unequal access to education, economic opportunities and political participation can make them economically dependent throughout their lives. Ending child marriage will improve their productive and reproductive rights.

Gender equality 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 5 includes targets on gender equality and women’s empowerment, which will not be met unless we address child marriage.

Child marriage and humanitarian contexts

Humanitarian crises – including those caused by climate crisis – can increase gender and other inequalities and put girls at greater risk of child marriage. When food and livelihoods based on natural resources fail, families experiencing hardship may exchange daughters for assets, to reduce economic pressure or to protect them.

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Fact sheet and brief

Ending child, early and forced marriage is crucial to gender equality

This advocacy brief explores and documents how gender equality issues, identified during the Beijing +25 process, link with child, early and forced marriage.

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Tackling the Taboo focuses on the need to address patriarchal control of adolescent girls’ sexuality in the fight against child, early and forced marriage and unions.

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Technical Note on Gender-Transformative Approaches: A summary for practitioners

This report from UNFPA, UNICEF and UN Women tells us child marriage is both a symptom and a result of deep-seated gender inequalities and restrictive gender norms. Addressing child marriage therefore necessitates a gender-transformative approach, tackling harmful gender roles, norms and power relations.

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Gender, power and progress: How norms change

This report is about gender norms – the implicit informal rules about appropriate behaviour for people of different genders – that most people accept and follow.