Child marriage is rooted in gendered social norms and unequal relationships between women and men. It is made worse by poverty, low levels of education, and social and economic insecurity. The Girls Not Brides Theory of Change emphasises the need for comprehensive and gender-transformative approaches that address unequal gender norms through advancing girls’ rights and leadership, mobilising families and communities, providing services, and establishing and implementing laws and policies.
Within this comprehensive approach, social protection – especially cash transfer programmes – can play a role in mitigating some of the economic and social drivers of child marriage in both development and humanitarian contexts.
- Cash transfer programmes should be sensitive and responsive to local child marriage practices and drivers. They should include child marriage reduction as a specific objective.
- To reach girls at risk of child marriage, cash transfer programmes should cover high-prevalence communities and have inclusive eligibility criteria and outreach.
- Combined unconditional cash transfers and conditional or labelled transfers for education may be most effective, but complementary investment in education and other social services is also needed. Cash transfers for education should include non-formal and vocational education, and any conditions should support access rather than punish non-compliance.
- Cash is more efficient to deliver at scale than in-kind transfers, and supports girls’ and their families’ own spending and investment priorities. The size and frequency of payments depends on the programme objectives, which should reflect the local drivers of child marriage.
- Gender analysis should be used to identify and mitigate the gendered social norms that drive child marriage, and the possible negative impacts of cash transfers on violence against girls and women, the unequal distribution of domestic work, and the risk of funding dowry and facilitating early marriage.
- Cash transfer programmes should encourage the active participation of girls and support their holistic needs – that is, their needs as an interconnected whole – for better transitions to adulthood. They should link with national child marriage reduction strategies, laws and policies, and other social and economic services and programmes.