Keeping all girls in school is one of the best ways of preventing child marriage. At the same time, child marriage remains a significant barrier to girls’ access to quality education. Whatever the reason for a girl dropping out of school, once married it is often very difficult for her to return. In this brief, we explore the key facts, two-way impacts, common drivers and solutions on education and child marriage.
Child marriage is a human rights violation. Its drivers are complex and vary according to the context. They include gender inequality, poverty, social norms that discriminate against girls, customary or religious laws that condone the practice, and an inadequate legislative framework and/or civil registration system.
The relationship between child marriage and girls’ education works both ways, and decisions around them are complex and influenced by a variety of factors. For example, a girl may drop out of school for an unrelated reason and then find marriage is one of the only options open to her; or the decision for her to get married may force her to drop out of school.
Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage would like to thank the member organisations featured in this brief, and the Global Partnership for Education for their technical review of this brief.
- Keeping girls in school – especially secondary school – is one of the best ways of delaying marriage. On average, the likelihood of a girl marrying as a child is six percentage points less for every additional year she stays in secondary education.
- Access to education affects the timing of marriage more than marriage affects access to education. That is, rather than dropping out of school to get married, most girls drop out of school and then get married.
- Education is one of the most powerful drivers of gender equality because it can empower individuals and lead to the transformation of discriminatory gender norms.
- School closures, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, reduced civil society space due to lockdown measures, and humanitarian crises related to climate change and conflict threaten decades of progress made towards gender equality, placing many girls at heightened exposure to gender-based violence (GBV), sexual exploitation, adolescent pregnancy and child marriage.
- With reduced poverty and increased female labour force participation – particularly in stable and highly skilled jobs – more girls can stay in school and avoid child marriage.
-  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.
-  Wodon, Q., et al., 2018a, Missed Opportunities: The High Cost of Not Educating Girls, Washington DC: World Bank.
-  Marcus, R., 2018, “Education and gender norm change”, ALIGN platform.
-  UNESCO, 2021, One year into COVID-19 education disruption: Where do we stand?