Child Marriage

Finding Her True Value

Program for Bangladeshi girls encourages delaying marriage and financial independence

ICRW Gender and Population Specialist Kirsten Stoebenau takes a deeper look at an innovative program delaying child marriage in Bangladesh, as part of a follow up study to ICRW’s “Solutions to End Child Marriage” report.

Yasna gestured spiritedly while she told us how she stayed in school instead of getting married like so many of her friends. She was one of 20 girls my colleagues and I spoke with recently as we took a deeper look at an innovative program delaying child marriage in Bangladesh.

BBC article on child marriage cites ICRW

BBC News

Nada al-Aldal, the 11-year-old Yemeni girl who evaded child marriage, has caught the attention of millions around the world as she shares her story, highlighting the plight of Yemen’s child brides. 

Nada al-Aldal, the 11-year-old Yemeni girl who evaded child marriage, has caught the attention of millions around the world as she shares her story, highlighting the plight of Yemen’s child brides. 

Family Planning 101

Delaying marriage and motherhood in India’s heartland

Adolescent girls talk about their experience taking part in a cutting-edge child marriage prevention program whose monitoring and evaluation system was designed with the help of ICRW experts.

Uttar Pradesh, India – Shrimati is two years behind in her studies, a reflection of her circumstances, not her capacity to learn. On the contrary, it was immediately obvious that the 11th grader is a diligent pupil.

Changing the Course for Child Brides in Ethiopia

This week we focus on the often overlooked population of married adolescent girls, and a program that works empower them by addressing their health and economic needs.

Enana recalls her parents bathing her many years ago to get ready for, they told her, a holiday celebration. She doesn't remember how old she was.

"I was a child," Enana said. "I didn't even know how to clean myself."

A child, but ready -in her parents' eyes - to be a bride.

A Life More Enlightened: Giving girls a second chance in Egypt

As part of a larger ICRW research project identifying effective strategies to prevent child marriage, Gender and Development Specialist Allie M. Glinski visited Save the Children's Ishraq program in Egypt to find out what makes it work.   

The lives of many adolescent girls living in Upper Egypt resemble those of young children in perpetuity, blindly obeying their parents– and then their husbands – with no control over their own destiny. Child marriage and a lack of education inevitably shape these girls’ futures, carving the direction their life paths will take. Nearly a quarter of girls aged 20-24 in this agricultural region have reported marrying before they turned 18. Most, if not all, first dropped out of school.

Beyond the Classroom

Girls' education is critical to ending child marriage -- but it is not enough

ICRW's Jeff Edmeades is just back from Ethiopia where he met with some of the country's many child brides. As the World Bank Education Summit comes to a close today, he explains why girls' access to quality education alone is not enough to end the harmful practice of child marriage in low-income and marginalized societies.

Once again, I have just returned to my home base in Washington, DC after spending several weeks in Ethiopia’s deeply poor, yet breathtaking, Amhara region. And once again – as is always the case – I was inspired by the sheer enthusiasm and thirst for opportunity among an often forgotten group: child brides.

Press Release: Education critical – but not a silver bullet – to ending child marriage

ICRW President Sarah Degnan Kambou today addressed high level roundtable on approaches to ending child marriage – moderated by UN Special Envoy for Global Education, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown – during World Bank Education Summit in Washington, DC.

PRESS RELEASE: Education for girls is crucial to end child marriage but must be part of a broader effort, urge NGOs

17 April 2013

Getting the world’s 32 million out-of-school girls back into education will be crucial to end child marriage, state a group of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on the eve of a high level roundtable on child marriage, but emphasise that there is no single solution to end a practice that denies an estimated 14 million girls a year their rights to health, education, choice and security.

Finance and education ministers from eight developing countries will gather in Washington DC this week for meetings at the World Bank on how to accelerate progress towards delivering quality education for children and youth by 2015. The meetings will be co-hosted by President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown. 

Members of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage invited to a parallel roundtable discussion on how to address child marriage welcome this week’s meetings and call upon the education community to recognise that progress on global education goals cannot be made without tackling child marriage. 

Girls Not Brides members invited to the child marriage roundtable include World Vision, the World YWCA, as well as CARE USA, International Center for Research on Women, and the International Women’s Health Coalition representing the Girls Not Brides USA Partnership. 

To end child marriage, education must be accessible, good quality, safe and girl-friendly

One of the clearest indications of our success or failure on international development goals will be the number of girls who have been married as children. The reality is that when girls are married young, their education and other opportunities to live a safe, healthy and empowered life, come to an end. 

Girls Not Brides members invited to the child marriage roundtable emphasise that keeping girls in school is critical to delaying the age of marriage. However, if education is to be a successful tool to help girls avoid early marriage, they need to have access to quality education and schools that are safe and girl-friendly. This must be available at the critical transition from primary to secondary schooling, a time when school dropout rates for girls escalate.

Education initiatives that help girls to avoid child marriage must include awareness-raising campaigns for parents and community leaders on the benefits of girls’ education, scholarship programmes for girls, female mentors and teachers, equipping schools with sex-segregated toilets and providing training for teachers on how to ensure a safe environment for all students.

The NGOs also warn education ministers not to overlook the 400 million girls and women who have already been married as children, and who have often been forced to drop out of school, unable to complete their education. Governments should ensure re-integration of married girls, who may be mothers, into formal schooling and other non-formal educational opportunities. 

Education alone is not enough to end child marriage. Cooperation is needed across government ministries and with civil society to end the practice.

“We know that child marriage is holding back progress in girls’ education and we welcome the education community’s growing interest in tackling this issue,” says Sarah Kambou, President of the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). “We also know that the persistence of child marriage hinders our efforts to end gender inequality, poverty, hunger, HIV/AIDS, maternal and new-born deaths. We’ll struggle to make progress in all of these areas until we commit to addressing the harmful, cross-cutting effects of the practice.”

“To achieve long-term change on issues like child marriage,” adds Lakshmi Sundaram, Global Coordinator, Girls Not Brides, “we need to ensure that large-scale structural efforts aimed at other goals such as health and poverty reduction, as well as education, are making the connection with child marriage prevention.”

The NGOs invited to the child marriage roundtable will urge the education and finance ministers to cooperate with ministries across their government, including ministries of health, justice, and social affairs, to make sure that ending child marriage is integrated throughout their social programming. They also urge governments to enforce minimum age of marriage laws and to implement legal, policy, administrative and other measures to end child, early and forced marriage in a single generation.

The NGOs will urge participating governments to partner with the civil society organisations working directly with adolescent girls, men and boys, religious leaders and their wider communities to scale up this work across regions and countries.

“Changing cultural practices and attitudes that allow child marriage to continue takes years, and requires a deep and lasting commitment to work with families and communities to make change happen,” says Denise Allen, World Vision International.

“By reaching out to communities and empowering the girls vulnerable to child marriage, we can begin to counter the idea that girls are somehow of lesser value,” says Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, General Secretary of the World YWCA. “It will take time but we must address the root causes of child, early and forced marriage, including poverty and gender inequality.”

Substantial support needed from donor governments

Donor governments and institutions should also play an active role in efforts to end child marriage.

“Child marriage is not a problem that just affects the eight countries represented at this meeting. It is a global problem,” states Jennifer Redner of the International Women’s Health Coalition and co-chair of Girls Not Brides USA. “In countries where it is practiced, child marriage undermines efforts to alleviate poverty, reduce maternal and infant deaths, and tackle violence against women and girls. Donors, national governments, multilateral agencies and the private sector need to commit substantial resources to prevent and respond to child marriage.”

Child marriage must feature in post-2015 development framework

The needs and rights of adolescent girls were largely unaddressed in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), argue the group of NGOs. To rectify this in the new development framework currently under discussion, participating governments at the meeting are called on to advocate for rates of child marriage to be included as an indicator of the welfare of adolescent girls.

“There are few clearer indicators of how adolescent girls are faring in a country than its rate of child marriage,” says Lakshmi Sundaram, Global Coordinator, Girls Not Brides. “By ensuring that ending child marriage is included in the new development goals, we can keep track of how well we are all doing in ensuring that adolescent girls can thrive.”


For media enquiries and interview requests please contact:

Laura Dickinson, Girls Not Brides: +44 7500 864871

Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 250 non-governmental organisations committed to ending child marriage.


Mission Statement: 

ICRW's mission is to empower women, advance gender equality and fight poverty in the developing world. To accomplish this, ICRW works with partners to conduct empirical research, build capacity and advocate for evidence-based, practical ways to change policies and programs.

ICRW Advises Indian Leaders on Child Marriage Prevention

ICRW's Ravi Verma is part of a core group of experts designing a child prevention strategy for India
Thu, 04/11/2013

ICRW's Ravi Verma has been part of a core group of global experts who is advising the Indian government on how best to frame and execute a strategy to prevent child marriage. If approved, the national strategic plan would require India to adopt a more integrated approach to effectively address child marriage.

With recognized expertise on the scope, causes and consequences of child marriage, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) continues to be called upon not only to evaluate and design programs that address early marriage, but also to advise organizations and governments committed to ending the harmful practice that robs millions of girls worldwide of their childhood.

Most recently, ICRW Asia Regional Office Director Ravi Verma has been part of a core group of global experts who is advising the Indian government on how best to frame and execute a national strategy to prevent child marriage. Brought together by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the group of nine led by Indian government officials includes representatives from the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Ford Foundation, the European Union and the Mother and Child Health Institute in New Delhi.

Members from the core group are currently finalizing a proposed child marriage prevention plan, which they have spent more than a year crafting. Indeed, the group’s effort is a timely one: child marriage remains one of India’s most pressing development challenges.

More than 40 percent of the world’s child marriages take place in India, where the practice continues to be fueled by entrenched poverty and centuries-old tradition. And while the rate of child marriage reportedly dropped to 46 percent in 2009, its prevalence still exceeds 50 percent in some states, with the highest rates found in Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. The problem is worse in rural India as compared to urban areas, with 56 and 29 percent prevalence, respectively, according to “Child Marriage in Southern Asia: Policy Options for Action,” a 2012 ICRW report published in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund, the Australian Agency for International Development and the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development.

The Indian government has endeavored to curb the practice by passing legislation in 2006 that increased the legal age of marriage for girls and boys to 18 and 21, respectively; and by piloting innovative interventions in high-risk communities. Experts believe these efforts have contributed to the declining rate of child marriages in the country.

To accelerate this decline, the government is now striving to create a more comprehensive approach to curbing child marriage. The overall prevention strategy being finalized by the core group - and to be approved by the government of India - is framed around key principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In part, these principles promote the best interests of children, equal opportunities for them – regardless of gender, age or ethnicity – and protection from all forms of abuse. Child marriage is often associated with violence, abuse and confinement.

The proposed child marriage prevention plan calls for India to adopt a more integrated system to effectively address the issue. The approach would aim to change deeply entrenched social norms over time by at once targeting individuals, families, community-based organizations and government officials. It also would include a component to monitor and evaluate progress on strategic goals.

If approved, the strategic plan will be shared with state officials throughout the country. States would then be expected to identify districts that have a high incidence of child marriage and allocate resources to implement the plan.

Read more ICRW research and programs related to child marriage:

Asia Child Marriage Initiative: Summary of Research in Bangladesh, India and Nepal: This new report examines perceptions about the causes and consequences of child marriage in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, and offers strategies to delay the practice.

Not Her Mother’s Daughter: ICRW Senior Director of Communications Jennifer Abrahamson recounts her visit to Haryana, India, where ICRW is evaluating an innovative government program that uses cash to encourage families to keep their daughters in school instead of marrying them off at a young age.

Solutions to End Child Marriage: In this 2011 report, ICRW experts synthesize child marriage prevention programs that have documented evaluations and offer an analysis of the broader implications for viable solutions to child marriage.

Child Marriage in Southern Asia – Policy Options for Action: These policy and advocacy briefs highlight the life-threatening situations girls in nine Southern Asian countries face on account of child marriage and recommend ways in which policymakers can prevent the practice.

Out of the Shadows: Child Marriage in Ethiopia: This four-part series of stories offers a glimpse into the lives of child brides in Ethiopia and how ICRW is working to support them.

New ICRW Study Examines Perceptions of Child Marriage in Bangladesh, India and Nepal

Wed, 04/03/2013

A new ICRW report examines perceptions of different groups about the causes and consequences of child marriage in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, and offers strategies to delay the practice. 

Low education level, lack of community-based livelihood programs and widespread poverty are the primary motives of child marriage in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, according to a new International Center for Research on Women’s (ICRW) report, which examines perceptions about the practice from a variety of groups and recommends strategies to delay child marriage in South Asia.

The study, “Asia Child Marriage Initiative: Summary of Research in Bangladesh, India and Nepal,” explores child marriage through a qualitative study of stakeholders in the region. ICRW carried out the study for Plan International Regional to help Plan better understand the efficacy of its Asia Child Marriage Initiative, which aims to prevent early marriages in the region. The research was conducted in 2012 and led by Ravi Verma, director of ICRW’s Asia Regional Office in New Delhi.

This latest study builds upon ICRW’s nearly 20-year commitment to documenting the causes and consequences of child marriage and devising solutions to prevent it. Meanwhile, ICRW experts recently provided policy recommendations for addressing early marriage in nine Southern Asia countries and, in an ongoing program in Ethiopia with the humanitarian organization CARE, ICRW is striving to better understand what works to empower girls who are already married. 

Child marriage is one of the most prevalent violations of human rights in South Asia where 46 percent of children are married before the age of 18. It disproportionately affects girls, who are much more likely to be married off than boys. Although governments in the region are working to strengthen and enforce child marriage laws, the practice is deeply rooted in social values and norms and is often a result of poverty and lack of opportunities available to women. 

The research findings, gathered from a series of interview and focus group discussions with girls and boys, parents, community leaders and government officials, provide valuable insight into the practice of child marriage in the three countries, how community programs and government should address the issue, and ways to deter and ultimately end the practice.

ICRW researchers found that the cause of child marriage in all three countries is deeply ingrained in tradition and considered inevitable by children and adults alike. In most cases, parents’ fear of putting their daughters at risk of sexual violence or engaging in pre-marital sexual activity prompted them to marry them off young.

Furthermore, most respondents hold the age-old belief that a female’s primary role in life is to care for a husband and children. Poverty and lack of education was also found to be a key driver in each country. For example, girls from lower income families were often married young because of costs associated with education, a preference to educate boys over girls if forced to choose, and the poor quality of schools. A relatively less understood reason for child marriage that emerged was parents’ fear that their daughters would “self-initiate” marriage without their consent, damaging the family’s honor.

The study provides an extensive list of key findings and recommendations to improve current government initiatives and community programs, develop future policy and create mass media messaging in the region. If implemented, researchers say the study’s recommendations can ultimately help change perceptions and delay early marriages in South Asia and other regions where the practice is a major health, development and human rights issue.

The following is a brief summary of key findings and recommendations:

  • Education and poverty are closely linked to age of a girl at marriage
  • Engage men in efforts to prevent child marriage
  • Develop mass media messages that promote respect of the decision for boys and girls to remain unmarried rather than stigmatize unmarried girls
  • Universalize financial support for girls’ secondary education
  • Strengthen the identification and prosecution of parties involved in perpetuating child marriage, and enhance penalties so that the law becomes a deterrent
  • Policymakers should support programs to economically empower girls and women in locations of high prevalence of child marriage and in marginalized communities

Read “Asia Child Marriage Initiative: Summary of Research in Bangladesh, India and Nepal” to view additional recommendations, learn more about how researchers conducted the study and see an assessment of Plan International’s strategies in the region.

No Small Victory

New legislation includes child marriage as a form of violence against women
Tue, 03/19/2013

The reauthorized Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) for the first time includes provisions on working to end child marriage worldwide .

Earlier this month – just before International Women’s Day – the U.S. Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This in itself was a triumph. However, there was another victory won that warrants special attention: the legislation includes new, groundbreaking protections for young women and girls affected by child marriage.

This is a critical step in upholding the rights of adolescent girls around the world, and in shielding them from the harmful practice of  child marriage, which often has devastating consequences for girls, their families and their communities.

Under the leadership of Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Representatives Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL), who have consistently pushed for American leadership on this issue, provisions requiring the U.S. Secretary of State to author a national strategy to end child marriage were inserted to the VAWA reauthorization. ICRW and its partners in the Girls Not Brides USA coalition have advocated for the creation of such a strategy for years, and welcome the news that this important strategy will become a foreign policy reality for the United States.

If present trends continue, 142 million girls will marry over the next decade. That’s 38,000 girls married every day for the next 10 years. The costs of child marriage are high, not only for the girls themselves, but also for communities and societies as a whole. Because their bodies are not fully developed, child brides are at a very high risk of facing complications in pregnancy and childbirth – childbirth is the leading cause of death for girls ages 15-19. Young brides are more likely to experience gender-based violence, to drop out of school and to contract sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

These staggering statistics underscore the urgency of US action to end this debilitating practice. The provisions in the VAWA reauthorization are both a welcome and a necessary step forward in the quest to ensure that this is done.

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