Child ProteCtion inForMAtion Sheet
Child marriage is a violation of human rights wheth-
er it happens to a girl or a boy, but it represents
perhaps the most prevalent form of sexual abuse
the right to free and full consent to a marriage
and exploitation of girls. the harmful consequences
is recognized in the universal declaration of
include separation from family and friends, lack of
human rights (1948) with the recognition that
freedom to interact with peers and participate in
consent cannot be ‘free and full’ when one of
community activities, and decreased opportuni-
the parties involved is not sufficiently mature to
ties for education. Child marriage can also result
make an informed decision about a life partner.
in bonded labour or enslavement, commercial
the convention on the elimination of all Forms
sexual exploitation and violence against the victims.
of discrimination against Women (1979) states
Because they cannot abstain from sex or insist on
that the betrothal and marriage of a child shall
condom use, child brides are often exposed to such
have no legal effect and all necessary action,
serious health risks as premature pregnancy, sexual-
including legislation, shall be taken to specify a
ly transmitted infections and, increasingly, hiV/AidS.
minimum age of marriage. the Committee on
the elimination of discrimination against Women
recommends this age to be 18.
Parents may consent to child marriages out of
economic necessity. Marriage may be seen as a way
to provide male guardianship for their daughters,
protect them from sexual assault, avoid pregnancy
or discourage this practice. Government action is
outside marriage, extend their childbearing years or
required to review customary and civil law. Because
ensure obedience to the husband’s household.
child marriage is closely associated with poverty,
government commitment to poverty reduction is
likely to lead to a decrease in child marriages.
Facts and Figures
• Globally, 36 per cent of women aged 20–24 were
Legislation and enforcement
married or in union before they reached 18 years
Governments need to establish 18 as the legal age
of marriage for girls, as well as boys, and ensure
its implementation. Promoting birth and marriage
• An estimated 14 million adolescents between 15
registration will help enforce these laws.
and 19 give birth each year. Girls in this age group
are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or
attitudes, customs and practices
childbirth as women in their twenties.2
ending child marriage is challenging because even
• Marriage of young girls is most common in sub-
parents who understand its negative impact may
Saharan Africa and South Asia. in niger, 77 per
find it hard to resist economic and societal pres-
cent of 20- to 24-year-old women were married
sures and traditions. Addressing attitudes and cus-
before the age of 18. in Bangladesh, this rate was
toms that promote or condone the practice is vital
65 per cent.
to changing the acceptable age for marriage.
Marriage is regarded as a private subject in many
BuiLding a PrOtectiVe enVirOnMent FOr
cultures. Communication campaigns can help
create circumstances in which it can be discussed
government commitment and capacity
and traditional beliefs about marriage can be ex-
the role of government and civil-society institutions
amined. to foster behavioural change from within
is to develop and implement systems to prevent
communities, human rights should be emphasized,
Child ProteCtion inForMAtion Sheet: Child MArriAGe
particularly those of women – including equality,
away from parents forcing them into an unwanted
access to education and freedom from exploitation
Monitoring, reporting and oversight
children’s life skills, knowledge and participation
demographic health Surveys and Multiple indica-
expanding children’s knowledge and empower-
tor Cluster Surveys collect valuable data on preva-
ment is crucial, particularly for girls. educated girls
lence and reasons for child marriage. Community-
are less likely to agree to marry at a young age.
level monitoring systems can also help record
Attempts to close gender gaps in education can
frequency of child marriage. Marriage registration
include the establishment of child-friendly schools,
should be promoted.
cash incentives for parents and the expansion of
exaMPLes OF uniceF in actiOn
capacity of families and communities
Community-level women’s organizations need
globally, one way UniCeF is addressing the issue
support to act as effective advocates and educa-
of child marriage is through the promotion of girls’
tors. human rights-based development and educa-
education. research has shown that higher levels
tion programmes can create dynamics leading to
of education for girls prevent child marriage3.
a change in customs, hierarchies and prejudices
UniCeF is the lead agency for the United nations
linked to the tradition of child marriage.
Girls’ education initiative, which works to ensure
that by 2015, all children everywhere will be able to
essential services, including prevention, recovery
complete primary schooling.
Counselling services on abuse, reproductive health
in Bangladesh, UniCeF has been supporting
and protection from hiV infection are imperative
Kishori Abhijan, a project promoting the rights of
for young girls. Girls who run away from marria-
adolescent girls and combating rights violations
ges need emergency support, as do those running
such as child marriage and dowry. the project
provides education, training and links to economic
activities for networks of adolescent girls to help
MiLLenniuM deVeLOPMent gOaLs
them gain livelihood skills.
Child marriage is both a response to deprivation
and a harmful practice that keeps families en-
snared in poverty. Married children are generally
isolated – removed from their immediate fami-
lies, taken out of school and denied interaction
1 this figure does not include China. Unless otherwise
with their peers and communities. For girls, early
pregnancy leads to higher risks, including death
indicated, figures are from United nations Children’s Fund,
during delivery, jeopardizing the health of these
The State of the World’s Children 2006, UniCeF, new York,
young mothers and their babies. teenage girls
2005, p. 131.
are more susceptible than mature women to
sexually transmitted diseases. Because marriage
2 United nations Population Fund, State of World Population
before age 18 is so prevalent in many struggling
2005: The promise of equality: Gender equity, reproductive
countries, the practice becomes an obstacle to
health and the Millennium Development Goals, UnFPA, new
nearly every development goal – eradicating
York, 2005, p. 50.
poverty and hunger (MdG 1); achieving universal
primary education (MdG 2); promoting gender
3 United nations Children’s Fund, Early Marriage: A harmful
equality (MdG 3); protecting children’s lives (4);
traditional practice: A statistical exploration, UniCeF, new York,
and improving health (5, 6).
2005, pp. 12-13.
For further information please contact:
the Child Protection Section
Programme division UniCeF nY
© the United nations Children’s Fund (UniCeF)