Research in 2017: what did we learn about child marriage?

2017 was another big year for research on child marriage. It shed new light on drivers and decision-making about child marriage across contexts, the impact of child marriage, and what we know about what works to address it. Here’s what we learned.

Child marriage is increasing in humanitarian contexts

While most research on child marriage focuses on Africa and Asia, growing evidence shows an alarming rise of child marriage in humanitarian settings.

Across Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Yemen, communities affected by conflict and displacement are turning to child marriage when faced with increased poverty and risks of sexual violence against girls.

This year, research from Lebanon showed how living in urban areas influenced refugee parents’ decisions to marry girls young.

Child marriage happens in Latin America too

In Latin America, child marriage remains a hidden and underestimated problem – partly because of the language used to describe unions which are mostly informal. But we are learning more.

A new report by INSAD showed that in Mexico, over 30% of girls in many rural areas are married or in informal unions, and often feel that this is what is expected of them.

In the Dominican Republic, Plan International highlighted different drivers of child marriage, from pressure to marry following unintended pregnancy, to a desire to escape violent family homes.

A study from Nicaragua found that child marriage is deeply rooted in gender norms.

Girls’ choice and agency is limited when it comes to decisions of marriage

New research funded by the Dutch government from the More then Brides Alliance, the Yes I Do Alliance, and the Her Choice Alliance sheds light on the drivers and context of child marriage across 22 countries across Africa and Asia.

The findings point to the importance of creating alternatives to child marriage in contexts where choice and agency for women and girls is limited, and highlight the need for integrated strategies to end child marriage.

New findings on child marriage in Kenya, Senegal, Uganda and Zambia confirm unequal gender norms that prioritise women’s roles as wives, mothers and family caretakers as drivers of child marriage in those countries, highlighting differences with South Asia.

Child marriage is costing countries a fortune

For the first time in June 2017, the World Bank and The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) calculated the costs of child marriage. We now have evidence that child marriage doesn’t only affects the lives of million girls, but also has a huge impact on the economy.

This new evidence could be a game-changer for civil society advocates and policy-makers alike – it provides us with a credible tool to show that ending child marriage is not only the right thing do, it’s also the smart thing to do if we want to see increased economic development.

We continue to learn about what programmes and policies are needed

Evidence reviews

A new systematic review by the Population Council looked at programme evaluations from the last 20 years across Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa and highlighted the importance of empowerment approaches. They also looked at the impact and cost effectiveness of four types of interventions in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Tanzania. They found that different interventions work for girls of different ages, and that cost effectiveness improves by targeting areas where rates of child marriage are high.

Mappings of laws and policies

At the policy level, UNFPA’s desk review sheds light on laws and policies and strategies affecting adolescents and youth including child marriage, and Tahirih Justice Centre analysed minimum age of marriage laws in the US.

In our summary of lessons learned from national strategies to end child marriage, we share lessons and challenges from countries developing specific policies and strategies to end child marriage.

Case studies from our members’ work

At Girls Not Brides, we have also supported our members to document their insights and lessons from

Research coming up in 2018

We expect 2018 to continue to inform our efforts to end child marriage around the world. Plan International has started research in eight Latin American countries, while the World Bank is due to release several country reports about the economic impacts of child marriage.

UNICEF will be sharing new statistics on trends of child marriage, as well as country reports for the Middle East and North Africa, and several African countries, including Cameroon, Burundi and Mozambique.

As for Girls Not Brides, we will be supporting new research on implementing multi-sectoral strategies at sub-national level to help inform how national strategies to address child marriage are being implement.

Are you planning new research on child marriage in 2018? Let us know and we will connect you with others and help to highlight the findings.