Strategy to provide services
There are many structural barriers that can push girls into child marriage and prevent them from accessing support once they are married.
Services should be provided across sectors that reinforce one another and are tailored to the specific needs of girls and adolescents who are at risk or are – or have been – married.
Service providers must consider all barriers across education, health – including sexual and reproductive health and rights, and mental health – justice, child protection and humanitarian sectors. They must tailor innovative programmes to reach the girls and adolescents who have been most marginalised, including those who are married, pregnant and parenting, and those affected by conflict and humanitarian crises.
For example, a lack of secondary schools means girls in rural areas often live far from their nearest school. If they cannot travel there safely, or if there are no appropriate facilities for them to manage their menstrual hygiene, they may underperform, miss or leave school early. Pregnant or married girls with children may lack child support or be excluded from school.
Providers should also establish systems to identify the warning signs, address the risks of child marriage and support girls who are – or have been – married, including those who wish to leave marriage.
- Girls have increased access to safe, quality formal and non-formal education.
- Girls who are – or have been – married have increased access to health care services, including maternal and mental health care.
- Girls have increased access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including safe abortion.
- Child protection, gender-based violence, legal and justice systems have capacity to prevent and respond to child marriage, including support for girls at risk.
- Girls have increased access to livelihood support and social protection.
- Girls who are pregnant, wish to enter unions or are already married have increased access to health, education, economic and psychosocial support.
- Targeted interventions in place to identify and reach the girls most at risk, including those affected by conflict and humanitarian crises.
Offering better education, health and legal services – including those that support girls to build the skills and access the opportunities they need to reduce their financial dependence on others – supports girls to avoid marriage, continue their education and, if they wish, to leave marriage.
Programmes and practice
Accessible, high quality and safe schooling
Increasing access to accessible, high quality and safe schooling is a critical strategy in ending child marriage and ensuring married girls can complete their education. Education builds knowledge, opens new opportunities and can help to transform norms around the value of girls and adolescents in the community. The very act of adolescent girls going to school can reinforce to the community that girls of school-going age should not be married.
Keeping girls in school is an effective way to prevent child marriage but it is not enough. Girls need support to thrive and transition into secondary school. For married girls, it is important that schools encourage and support them to continue their education in either an informal or formal setting. This could mean being part of a safe space programme, or undertaking part-time, remote or vocational learning.
High quality, youth-friendly health services
Both unmarried and married girls need high quality, youth-friendly health services to live healthy and safe lives. Many girls in low income countries have an unmet need for sexual and reproductive health care – including access to contraception and safe abortion – which can put them at risk of unwanted early pregnancy, and HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Girls need to know about their bodies as well as the types of services and health care available to them. Making sure health services are youth-friendly and that girls can access care without judgement and without male supervision is also important.
Adequate child protection mechanisms
Ensuring there are adequate child protection mechanisms in place is an important part of our efforts to end child marriage. Establishing protocols on identifying the warning signs and addressing the risks of child marriage is a key part of this work.
Child protection services need to be accessible through a number of channels, including education, healthcare providers, community workers and the police. Working with service providers to enhance their capacity can help to ensure that cases of child marriage in the community are responded to effectively.
Particular attention should be paid to service provision in conflict and humanitarian crises, when girls are put at greater risk of gender-based and sexual violence, including child marriage.
Girls and women also need economic security to live safe, healthy lives where they can make and act on their decisions. Introducing economic incentives like conditional cash transfers can help encourage families to consider alternatives to child marriage by alleviating their economic hardship and reframing the daughter as a valued part of the family rather than an economic burden. This should go hand-in-hand with livelihood support and social protection initiatives focused on the most marginalised girls.
Economic empowerment schemes such as microfinance or village savings and loan schemes can help girls to support themselves and their families without having to be married. Ensuring girls can become financially literate, and open and easily access a bank account (without male supervision) can help them save in a secure way and become financially independent.
Theory of Change user guide
This user guide outlines ways in which organisations can use the global Theory of Change on child marriage.
Back to school campaign
In this case study, we explore the work of Camfed who has helped a group of married girls return to school in Mfera, Malawi.
Unite for Body Rights (UFBR)
This case study explores the work of Amref Health Africa who works to ensure young people have access to youth-friendly sexual reproductive health services.
Family guidance centres and women's shelters
This case study explores the support married and at-risk girls need, as well as the challenges faced when implementing this type of work in unstable contexts like Afghanistan.