Adolescent girls are at increased risk of sexual violence and child marriage in conflict-affected settings, as social norms that discriminate against girls are exacerbated by rising violence and insecurity. Eight out of the 10 countries with the highest child marriage prevalence are experiencing humanitarian crises,[i] and 70% of women experience gender-based violence in humanitarian contexts, compared with 35% worldwide.[ii]
This brief sets out the key facts and latest evidence on child marriage, gender-based violence and sexual violence in conflict-affected settings, including the experience of Girls Not Brides member organisations. It also includes recommendations for advocacy, policy, programming, research, and UN Agencies and cluster leads to integrate child marriage prevention and response into broader work on conflict-related sexual violence and gender-based violence in conflict-affected settings.
- Child marriage considerations urgently need to be integrated into conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) and gender-based violence (GBV) prevention strategies in conflict- and crisis-affected settings. Greater attention needs to be paid to GBV – including CRSV and child marriage – in crisis-affected settings overall.
- CRSV and child marriage are preventable, as demonstrated by the What Works to End Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) programme.[iii] Funding is now needed to develop the evidence base on what works to prevent CRSV and child marriage in crisis-affected settings.
- Women’s rights organisations are on the front line of preventing and responding to CRSV and child marriage; they need flexible, muti-year, core funding to sustain their critical work.
- CRSV, including forced marriage, is a human rights abuse, and can constitute a violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime. Impunity is widespread, despite significant progress in enshrining CRSV as a violation of international criminal law,[iv] and the first conviction of forced marriage as a crime against humanity by the International Criminal Court in 2021.[v]
- A survivor-centred approach should be employed across all programmes and services, which should be inclusive of and accessible to groups that have been marginalised, including adolescent girls; married, divorced and widowed girls; girls and women with disabilities; and LGBTQIA+ people.
- Protection is the foundation for girls’ and women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in political, social, economic and peacebuilding processes, which in turn is critical to ending CRSV.
- Increased funding for violence and child marriage prevention programmes in the Global South is urgently needed to tackle all forms of GBV, including emotional and physical abuse as a consequence of GBV, CRSV and child marriage.
Note on terminology:
We use the term “child marriage” to refer to all forms of child, early and forced marriage and unions where at least one party is under the age of 18. In this, we include all girls and adolescents affected by the practice – whether in formal or informal unions – and acknowledge the culturally-specific understandings of childhood and development, and the complex relationship between age, consent and force.
- [i] Save the Children, 2022, Global girlhood report 2022: Girls on the frontline.
- [ii] UN OCHA, 2021, Gender and gender-based violence in humanitarian action.
- [iii] What Works to Prevent Violence, 2022, Evidence for action: What works to prevent conflict-related sexual violence, What Works: UK.
- [iv] International Criminal Court (ICC): The Office of the Prosecutor, 2014, Policy paper on sexual and gender-based crimes.
- [v] Baumeister, H., 2021, Forced marriage case notes: Ongwen case, University of Nottingham Rights Lab.