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

Article Date

03 April 2013

Article Author

Athina Moustakis

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

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.