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Ending Child Marriage and Empowering Child Brides

Policy Briefs

One out of every three girls in developing countries is married before the age of 18 and one in nine is married before age 15. Each year, it is estimated that 14 million girls in developing countries under the age of 18 are married. That is 39,000 marriages each day.

Although most common in Asia and Africa, child, early and forced marriages take place in nearly every region of the world. There are a number of drivers of child, early and forced marriage, including poverty, gender inequality, cultural norms, early pregnancy and the belief that early marriage can be a form of protection for young girls — particularly in humanitarian emergencies where there may be a high risk of other forms of gender-based violence.

One in three girls in the developing world is married before she turns 15.

The practice is most prevalent in the world’s poorest countries. In fact, girls from poor families are twice as likely to be married before age 18 as their peers from more well-off families. Child marriage remains all too common in patriarchal societies where women’s value is based primarily upon their purity as girls or their role as mothers and wives. These girls often have limited education and little agency over their own lives, rarely having a say in when or whom they marry.

Early or forced marriage is a severe violation of a girl’s rights, and causes abrupt, radical changes in her life. These girls are isolated, uprooted from their home, family, and the social networks in which they were brought up. For many, staying in school and continuing their education is no longer an option. Instead, they are now responsible for managing a household and bearing children. Additionally, age and power disparities within these marriages may place some girls at an increased risk of violence.

Some of the most profound and potentially deadly impacts of child, early and forced marriage are related to the sexual and reproductive health of girls. Girls often lack information and access to contraceptives and other reproductive health services needed to protect themselves from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Young brides may also be unable to negotiate the parameters of sexual activity in their relationship, including the use of contraceptives, and may be expected to prove their fertility as soon as possible following the marriage.

Nearly one in five girls in the developing world will become pregnant before the age of 18, and about 90 percent of those who give birth are married. For girls under 15, adolescent pregnancy is particularly risky. These girls are more than twice as likely to die during delivery as older women. Consequently, maternal mortality remains the second leading cause of death for girls ages 15-19 around the world.

HIV disproportionately impacts young women. In sub-Saharan Africa, prevalence rates among young women aged 15-24 are twice as high as they are for their male peers. Early marriage is a strong contributing factor in these statistics. Girls are particularly vulnerable because of and the fact that their husbands are often a decade or more older than them, with a history of sexual partners.

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