Back to Articles Archive



Child Marriage


      Child marriage, defined as marriage of a child below 18 years of age. Other terms applied to child marriage include "early marriage" and "child brides." Early marriage is vague and does not necessarily refer to children. Moreover, what is early for one person may be late for another. Child bride seems to glorify the process, implying a celebration and a bride who is happy to start a loving union with her spouse. But for the most part, girl brides do not know—and may have never met—their groom.

     Child marriage is a human rights violation. Despite laws against it, the practice remains widespread: Globally, one in every five girls is married, or in union, before reaching age 18. In the least developed countries, that number doubles – 40 per cent of girls are married before age 18, and 12 per cent of girls are married before age 15.

     Child marriage threatens girls’ lives and health, and it limits their future prospects. Girls pressed into child marriage often become pregnant while still adolescents, increasing the risk of complications in pregnancy or childbirth. These complications are the leading cause of death among older adolescent girls.

     Child marriage denies girls the right to choose whom and when to marry–one of life’s most important decisions. Choosing one's partner is a major decision, one that should be made freely and without fear or coercion. On this, virtually all countries agree.

     Despite near-universal commitments to end child marriage, 21 per cent of girls are married before age 18, an average of tens of thousands of girls every single day. Five per cent of girls are married before age 15.


1. Factors Contributing To Child Marriage

1.1 Poverty

Poverty plays a central role in perpetuating child marriage. Parents want to ensure their daughters' financial security; however, daughters are considered an economic burden. Feeding, clothing, and educating girls is costly, and girls will eventually leave the household. A family's only way to recover its investment in a daughter may be to have her married in exchange for a dowry. In some countries, the dowry decreases as the girl gets older, this may tempt parents to have their daughters married at younger ages. These are not necessarily heartless parents but, rather, parents who are surviving under heartless conditions.

1.2 Protection

Parents worry about ensuring their daughters' virginity and chastity. Hence, child marriage is seen as a protective mechanism against premarital sexual activity, unintended pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Apart from that, child marriage is seen as way to ensure girls’ safety when it comes to humanitarian crisis. According to UNICEF (2018), child marriage increases dramatically during humanitarian emergencies, driven by social and economic pressures as well as concerns about girls’ safety. A survey in 2014, for example, found that the average age of marriage for Syrian refugee girls in Turkey was between 13 and 20 years, with many parents saying that they would not have married off their daughters at such a young age under more normal circumstances.

1.3 Gender Inequality

Some parents see their daughters as burdens or commodities which is a common gender inequality issue. Dowries complicate the issue: In places where the bride’s family pays a dowry to the groom’s family, younger brides typically command smaller dowries, creating an incentive for parents to marry their daughters off early. In places where the groom’s family pays a bride price, parents in difficult circumstances may marry off their daughters as a source of income.

2. Impact of Child Marriage on Girl

2.1 Health

2.1.1 Cervical Cancer

Child marriage plays an important role in cervical cancer. Common risks for cervical cancer are child marriage, low socioeconomic status, poor access to health care, and husbands who had multiple sex partners. According to Nour (2006) a study in Morocco identified child marriage, high parity, long-term use of oral contraceptives, and poor genital hygiene (control participants bathed more frequently, and case-participants used homemade sanitary napkins more frequently) as contribution to cervical cancer.

2.1.2 Immune System Suppression

Pregnancy poses many challenges for young girls. Because pregnancy suppresses the immune system, pregnant girls are at increased risk of acquiring diseases like malaria. Malaria kills more than 1 million people each year, 90% of them in Africa. Approximately 25 million pregnant women are exposed to malaria per year, and pregnant women are among the most severely affected by malaria. Malaria parasite density is significantly higher in pregnant girls less than 19 years than in pregnant women more than 19 years.

2.1.3 Fistula

Many times, obstructed labor leads to fistulas; the pressure of the fetal head on the vaginal wall causes tissue necrosis, and fistulas develop between the vagina and the bladder or rectum after the necrotic tissue sloughs. According to Nour (2006) more than 2 million adolescents are living with fistulas, and fistulas develop in 100,000 more each year. Girls age 10–15 years are especially vulnerable because their pelvic bones are not ready for childbearing and delivery. Their risk for fistula is as high as 88%. Once a fistula is formed, fecal or urinary incontinence and peroneal nerve palsy may result and may lead to humiliation, ostracism, and resultant depression. Unless the fistula is surgically repaired, these girls have limited chances of living a normal life and bearing children.

2.2 Education

Girls who marry young tend to be from poor families and to have low levels of education. If they marry men outside their village, they must move away. Coping with the unfamiliar inside and outside the home creates an intensely lonely and isolated life. As these girls assume their new roles as wives and mothers, they also inherit the primary job of domestic worker. Because the husband has paid a hefty dowry, the girl also has immediate pressure to prove her fertility. Girls often embrace their fate and bear children quickly to secure their identity, status, and respect as an adult. As a result, these young girls have high total fertility rates but have missed the opportunities to be children: to play, develop friendships, bond, become educated, and build social skills.

2.3 Death

2.3.1 Death among Young Mothers

According to Mcgee (2016), South Sudan has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the world. Girls in South Sudan are three times more likely to die in childbirth than they are to finish high school. According to a midwife for Doctors Without Borders, based in the northwest city of Aweil in South Sudan, girls in their early teens suffering through an obstructed labour because their bodies aren't physically mature enough to cope with delivering a baby. The midwife said:

Sometimes by the time the girls get to them they have been in labour for two days and the baby is already dead. This is happening to girls who are 14, 15, 16 years old. They are too young to get married; it is too early for their bodies to be having a baby (Mcgee, 2016).

The midwife said early and forced marriages were a big part of why so many girls die while giving birth in South Sudan.

2.3.2 Death among Infants

Child marriage affects more than the young girls; the next generation is also at higher risk for illness and death. According to Nour (2006), adolescent mothers have a 35% – 55% higher risk than older women for delivering infants who are preterm and of low birth weight. Mortality rates are 73% higher for infants born to mothers more than 20 years of age than for those born to older mothers. These deaths may be partly because the young mothers are unhealthy, immature, and lack access to social and reproductive services. Mothers who have had malaria due to immune system suppression are at increased risk for premature delivery, anaemia, and death.

3. Solution

Global child marriage rates are slowly falling. According to UNICEF, 25 million child marriages were prevented in the last decade. Around 2000, one in three women between the ages of 20 and 24 reported they had been married as children. In 2018, this number is around one in five.

Still, progress has been uneven, and child marriage is not declining fast enough. Because of population growth in regions where child marriage is more prevalent, the total number of child marriages is projected to increase by 2030. To change this, we must accelerate our actions to end child marriage.

3.1 Law Enforcement

Ending child marriage requires action at many levels. Existing laws against child marriage should be enforced, especially when girls at risk of child marriage, or who are already married, seek protection and justice. And where it is not yet the case, the legal age of marriage should be raised to 18. But laws only provide the framework for action against child marriage. Practices people deem acceptable are unlikely to disappear through legislation alone.

3.2 Education

Governments, civil society and other partners must work together to ensure girls have access to education, health information and services, and life-skills training. Girls who are able to stay in school and remain healthy enjoy a broader range of options, and they are more likely to be able to avoid child marriage. Another aspect of the programme is to educate boys at the local school about women's rights.

According to a teacher at Nyal mixed Primary school, since the IRC's Women's Protection and Empowerment programme started in 2015, there have been big changes in the playground (Mcgee, 2016). The teacher said:

The attitudes of some families has changed. Now families are understanding that if their girls can go to school then they can get jobs and bring money into the family that way, instead of getting married for dowry (Mcgee, 2016).

The teacher said that before 2014 a lot of girls were being taken out of his classes and out of school to get married but now that is changing. And there is a big push to educate boys about equality.

3.3 Support

Girls who are already married need to be supported. Married girls need reproductive health services to help them avoid early pregnancy. Those who become pregnant need access to appropriate care throughout pregnancy, childbirth and in the post-partum period. They should be supported, if they choose, in returning to formal or non-formal school.


Ending child marriage requires a multifaceted approach focused on the girls, their families, the community, and the government. Culturally appropriate programs that provide families and communities with education and reproductive health services can help stop child marriage, early pregnancies, and illness and death in young mothers and their children.


1. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (2018) Child Marriage Is a Violation of Human Rights, But Is All Too Common.
    Retrieved on 16 July 2018 from

2. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (2018) Preventing Child Marriage.
    Retrieved on 16 July 2018 from

3. Nour, N. M (2006). Health Consequences of Child Marriage in Africa. Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal, Vol 12 (11).
    Retrieved on 16 July 2018 from

4. United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) (2018) Child Marriage.
    Retrieved on 16 July 2018 from

5. Mcgee, C. (2016) South Sudan: The Deadly Consequences of Child Marriage.
    Retrieved on 16 July 2018 from

Back to Articles Archive