Strategy to establish and implement laws and policies
Laws alone are not enough to end child marriage. Child marriage laws and policies should be part of a comprehensive legal and policy framework that addresses the root causes of child marriage – including gender inequality – and advances girls' rights.
This framework should respond to girls' evolving capacities, and cover issues like marriage and divorce – including support for those wishing to leave a marriage – dowry, bride price, polygamy and female genital mutilation/cutting; property and inheritance; sexual and gender-based violence; child labour and abuse; trafficking; access to education, health care and social securities; and mandatory birth and marriage registration. Any loopholes – like those around parental consent or customary laws – must be removed.
Any implementation of child marriage laws should be based in consultation with civil society organisations – including the participation of young people and adolescents – put girls’ rights at the centre, and complement and support community-based efforts to transform the social and gender norms that drive child marriage.
Young people and civil society should be engaged in developing policy. There should be systems to monitor how these laws and policies are implemented. These should be transparent, relevant and accountable to girls and their families.
- National laws reflect international and regional human rights standards.
- Robust legal framework on child marriage in place, setting the same minimum legal age for marriage for girls and boys to protect their rights.
- Governments develop supportive policy frameworks with adequate resources across ministries to increase educational, economic and social opportunities for girls at risk of child marriage and married girls.
- Civil registration systems for birth and marriage strengthened.
- Effective accountability and monitoring mechanisms in place to ensure delivery of policy commitments at national, regional and community level .
- Civil society, girls and youth can influence policy and hold duty-bearers to account.
- Marginalised girls and those who are pregnant, in a union or married have greater access to legal aid and support.
If properly enforced, robust laws and policies will help change norms and provide a framework to improve services for adolescent girls. Accessible, relevant laws become crucial tools for those working to support girls and families to avoid child marriage.
Programmes on laws and policies
Strengthening, implementing and resourcing laws and policies
Strengthening, implementing and resourcing laws and policies to advance gender equality and prevent child marriage is an important step towards recognising and upholding girls’ rights. While most countries legislate for a minimum legal age of marriage, the age of marriage is often higher for men than it is for women and many countries continue to have a legal age of marriage lower than in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
When they focus on the minimum age of marriage, without the surrounding rights-based provisions, laws can be used to punish rather than seek justice and redressal, with negative impacts for girls. This is especially acute for girls and adolescents who choose to marry or enter a union, who are already married or who wish to leave a marriage.
Gender discrimination and loopholes in the law continue, especially when it comes to issues around parental consent, the right to own and inherit property, separation and divorce, and access to professional services and support.
Many countries also have a pluralistic legal system meaning customary law often contradicts and overrides national law, making enforcement difficult.
Registering births and marriages
Registering births and marriages helps prevent child marriage by proving the age of a girl and her partner. It also means that girls and women can seek financial and legal redress if the marriage ends.
Theory of Change user guide
This user guide outlines ways in which organisations can use the global Theory of Change on child marriage.
Strengthening existing systems for prevention of child marriage
In this case study, we explore the work of HAQ Centre for Child Rights who works to strengthen existing systems at the government and community level in India.