- Child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and disproportionately affects girls.
- Child marriage violates girls’ rights to health, education and economic opportunity.
- More than 650 million women[i] and 115 million men alive today were married as children.[ii]
- 12 million girls under the age of 18 are married every year.
- If pre-pandemic trends continue, 150 million more girls will marry as children by 2030.[iii] Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this may increase by 10 million more girls.[iv]
The importance of gender
Child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and patriarchal systems – that is, systems controlled by and for men – that value girls less because of their sex.
Gender inequality – and the social norms and economic and political models that support and perpetuate it – discriminates against girls and women and denies their needs, participation and rights.
It limits their access to health – including sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) – education, and economic and political participation. It also limits their control over their own bodies – including if, when and whom to marry – and increases the risk of them experiencing gender-based violence (GBV).
This is made worse by poverty, lack of access to education, the impact of climate change and insecurity. Child marriage deepens girls’ experience of gender inequality and impacts negatively on their rights and quality of life. This impact is also felt by their children.
Until discrimination ends and all girls are free to enjoy their rights and exercise their agency – that is, choose and act on their choices – we will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- [i] UNICEF, 2020, Child marriage around the world.
- [ii] UNICEF, 2019, 115 million boys and men around the world married as children.
- [iii] UNICEF, 2021, Child marriage database.
- [iv] UNICEF, 2021, COVID-19: A thread to progress against child marriage.
- [v] WHO, 2021, Violence against women prevalence estimates, 2018: Executive summary.
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.
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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Ending child, early and forced marriage is crucial to gender equality
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Tackling the taboo: sexuality and gender-transformative programmes to end child, early and forced marriage and unions
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Technical Note on Gender-Transformative Approaches: A summary for practitioners
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This report is about gender norms – the implicit informal rules about appropriate behaviour for people of different genders – that most people accept and follow.