Every year 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. How do we get from here to a world without child marriage, where girls and women enjoy equality with boys and men, and are empowered to reach their full potential?
Our Theory of Change maps out the multiple strategies and critical steps needed to create this change, from the problem to our ultimate vision.
Our Theory of Change starts with ‘the problem’ of child marriage…
…and ends with our vision of what we can achieve by ending it.
Our overarching approach for how change will happen in the long-term.
The four overarching, mutually reinforcing approaches to addressing child marriage and supporting married girls.
Changes needed in the behaviour of individual girls, families, communities, and others.
The long-term change we want to achieve.
Every year approximately 15 million girls are married as children across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicities. Child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and in the low value accorded to girls, and is exacerbated by poverty, insecurity and conflict. It denies girls their rights, choice and participation, and undermines numerous development priorities, hindering progress towards a more equal, healthy and prosperous world.
A world without child marriage where girls and women enjoy equal status with boys and men and are able to achieve their full potential in all aspects of their lives.
For girls to refuse marriage, they have to understand and ‘own’ their rights, and be able to support their own life plans. A wide range of programmes should invest in girls, their participation and their well-being.
Pressure to marry young usually comes from girls’ families and communities and the broader cultural attitudes that influence these groups’ attitudes and behaviour. Work together to address these deep-rooted values and traditions by engaging families, communities, young people and the media to change attitudes and behaviours related to child marriage.
There are many structural barriers that can push girls into child marriage and prevent them from accessing support once they are married. Provide services across sectors that reinforce one another and are tailored to the specific needs of girls at risk of marriage and married girls.
Governments should demonstrate their commitment to end child marriage by developing strong laws and policies, and putting the money and institutions in place to enforce them.
This statement sets out why we urgently need to address the huge and complex issue of child marriage. Child marriage includes any legal or customary union involving a boy or girl below the age of 18. As minors, children are rarely able to give their 'free and full consent' to marriage.
The overwhelming majority of those married as children are girls, with a devastating impact on their education, health and development. While the causes and contexts differ across countries and cultures, a core principle of this Theory of Change is that tackling child marriage is key to attaining gender equality and empowerment for women and girls.
Our vision describes the world we believe can become possible by ending child marriage. Our ultimate objective is not only to prevent children girls from marrying before the age of 18, but also to ensure that they acquire the skills, connections and capacities that child marriage impedes, and have the opportunity and freedom to thrive.
As a traditional practice that has taken place among families, communities and societies for generations, no single strategy, campaign or group will end child marriage, nor will it happen overnight.
The Catalysing Strategy recognises the need for action at all levels, from grassroots to global. Empowering girls to make their own decisions is crucial, and must be complemented by efforts to address the broader context and attitudes which mean so many are married as children.
The diverse groups working to end child marriage - across the international development and human rights sectors - can achieve more by coordinating their efforts. The Catalysing Strategy emphasises the importance of this, and assumes the need for more investment, research, data collection, evaluation, and learning in order to measure our progress.
Programmes should equip girls with training, skills, and information, and provide safe spaces and support networks.
This means providing girls with the chance to connect with their peers and support each other as well as having access to formal support services. It also depends on the existence of real alternatives to marriage - different lifestyles and roles for unmarried girls that girls and their families value and respect.
Work to address deep-rooted values and traditions within all groups who influence the decision to marry girls young and who facilitate the marriage taking place: parents, men, traditional, religious and community leaders, and others.
This also has to be reflected in the broader cultural attitudes and media that influence these groups’ attitudes and behaviour.
Service providers must consider all barriers across education, health, justice and child protection sectors, and tailor innovative programmes to both married and unmarried girls.
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 have started menstruating and there are no sex-segregated toilets, they may miss school. Married girls with children may lack child support facilities or may not be allowed to return to school.
Providers should also establish systems to identify the warning signs and address the risks of child marriage, as well as supporting married girls to leave marriage if desired.
Legislation on the minimum age for marriage must form part of a broader legal framework that protects women and girls’ rights - from property rights and protection from violence, to support for those wishing to leave a marriage. Any loopholes - for example related to parental consent or customary laws - must be removed.
There should be systems to monitor how these laws and policies are being implemented. These should be transparent, relevant and accountable to girls and their families.
Our strategic activities should help girls see themselves as ‘rights bearers’ with choices and opportunity. They should change what families and communities expect of girls, so that marrying girls young is no longer the only option available. And they should change girls’ conditions, so that they enjoy greater support from their peers and from service providers.
Our strategic activities should change how child marriage is viewed by families and within wider society. Greater understanding of how child marriage harms girls will help to encourage families and communities to make different choices. However, changing attitudes can take a long time and these efforts should be resourced accordingly.
With better education, health and legal services - including those that provide girls with the skills and opportunities necessary to reduce their financial dependence on others - girls should be better equipped to avoid child marriage. Married girls should be better able to continue their education and, if they wish, to leave marriage.
If properly enforced, robust laws and policies will help change attitudes in a society and provide a framework to improve services for adolescent girls. Accessible, relevant laws become crucial tools for those working to empower girls and families to avoid child marriage.
The results are the changes in behaviour that we need to see among the individuals, communities and officials who have a direct impact on girls’ lives. Choosing which results to focus on will depend on an assessment of who the decision makers and influencers are and what the causes are of child marriage in a given context.
While this Theory of Change does not include changes in policy-makers’ behaviour as ‘results’, we recognise the important role of policy-makers in creating the conditions for change.
Girls should be able to determine their own aspirations and life paths. This can only happen in societies that empower girls to choose whether to marry, as well as when and to whom.
But while we seek to end child marriage, we should not neglect married girls. The factors that make them vulnerable to child marriage make them vulnerable within marriage as well. If we succeed in separating the harmful conditions associated with child marriage from the practice itself, married girls too can lead healthy, empowered lives.
These Case Studies aim to highlight and bring to life our members' work within the four strategy areas of the Theory of Change: Empower Girls, Mobilise Families & Communities, Provide Services and Establish & Implement Laws & Policies.