Photo credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos for DFID.
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
*Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2016)
Approximately 1 out of 5 girls across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are married off before the age of 18. Prevalence varies across the region, with rates of 32% in Yemen and 3% in Algeria.
The causes of child marriage across the Middle East and North Africa are complex and varied. While child marriage is rooted in gender inequality, high levels of poverty, and lack of educational opportunities for girls also exacerbate the practice.
Conflict also plays a part. The devastating conditions brought on by the Syrian crisis have led some families to resort to child marriage. In times of uncertainty child marriage often increases as families find themselves in precarious situations as their livelihoods, homes and families become endangered. For many parents, marrying their daughters is a way to cope with economic hardship or a way to protect her from the threat of sexual violence.
A recent study found that approximately 30% of registered marriages in Syrian refugee communities in Jordan involved a girl under 18.
Progress and prospects
According to UNICEF (2015), the MENA region has made the fastest progress in reducing child marriage, from 34 to 18% over the last three decades.
However, instability and conflict in the region could threaten progress. While child marriage already existed in Syria, the conflict and refugee crisis have exacerbated the situation, including in refugee communities in Jordan.
In Iraq and Syria, there have been reports that the Islamic State is using gender-based violence, including forced marriage, as a weapon of war. The Yazidi minority is particularly affected.
Regional initiatives to address child marriage
Middle Eastern and North African countries have started addressing child marriage. In 2014, the Egyptian government developed a national strategy to prevent child marriage and promote young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, while Lebanon launched a two-year campaign against underage marriages.
In conflict-affected regions, there is a need for governments and humanitarian agencies to address child marriage and incorporate prevention and response into existing interventions.
- UNICEF, State of the World’s Children 2016: A fair chance for every child. Table 9: child protection, 2015.
- Ending Child Marriage: Progress and Prospects. UNICEF (2014)
- Under Siege: The Devastating Impact on Children of Three Years of Conflict in Syria. UNICEF (2014)