Saturday, 7 May 2016


Marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights. Yet among women aged 20 to 24 worldwide, one in four were child brides. 

 Many factors interact to place a girl at risk of marriage, including:
  1.  poverty
  2.  the perception that marriage will provide ‘protection’
  3. family honour
  4.  social norms
  5.  customary or religious laws that condone the practice
  6.  an inadequate legislative framework and the state of a country's civil registration system. 

Child marriage often compromises a girl’s development by resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupting her schooling, limiting her opportunities for career and vocational advancement and placing her at increased risk of domestic violence. Child marriage also affects boys, but to a lesser degree than girls. 

Cohabitation – when a couple lives ‘in union’, as if married – raises the same human rights concerns as marriage. When a girl lives with a man and takes on the role of his caregiver, the assumption is often that she has become an adult, even if she has not yet reached the age of 18. Additional concerns due to the informality of the relationship – in terms of inheritance, citizenship and social recognition, for example – may make girls in informal unions vulnerable in different ways than girls who are married.
The issue of child marriage is addressed in a number of international conventions and agreements. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, for example, covers the right to protection from child marriage in article 16, which states: "The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage...." The right to 'free and full' consent to marriage is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that consent cannot be 'free and full' when one of the parties involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner. Although marriage is not mentioned directly in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, child marriage is linked to other rights – such as the right to freedom of expression, the right to protection from all forms of abuse, and the right to be protected from harmful traditional practices – and is frequently addressed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Other international agreements related to child marriage are the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.


Across the globe, rates of child marriage are highest in South Asia, where nearly half of all girls marry before age 18; about one in six were married or in union before age 15. This is followed by West and Central Africa and Eastern and Southern Africa, where 42 per cent and 33 per cent, respectively, of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married in childhood.
Worldwide, 1 in 4 women were married before age 18, with the highest rates of child marriage in South Asia
Percentage of women aged 20 to 24 years who were first married or in union before age 15 and after age 15 but before age 18, by region
* Excludes China.
** CEE/CIS: Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Notes: Estimates are based on a subset of 122 countries covering 79 per cent of the global population of women aged 20 to 24 (excluding China, for which comparable data are not available in UNICEF global databases). Regional estimates represent data covering at least 50 per cent of the regional population.
Source: UNICEF global databases, 2015, based on Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and other nationally representative surveys, 2003–2014.  


Globally, one in six adolescent girls (aged 15 to 19) are currently married or in union. South Asia has the highest proportion of married adolescents (29 per cent), followed by West and Central Africa (25 per cent) and Eastern and Southern Africa (20 per cent).
Almost 1 in 3 adolescent girls in South Asia are currently married or in union, compared to 1 in 20 in East Asia and the Pacific
Percentage of girls aged 15 to 19 years who are currently married or in union, by region
Note: Estimates are based on a subset of 115 countries covering 84 per cent of the female population aged 15 to 19. Regional estimates represent data from countries covering at least 50 per cent of the regional population.
Source: UNICEF global databases, 2014, based on DHS, MICS and other nationally representative surveys, 2005–2012


Child marriage affects girls in far greater numbers than boys, and with more intensity. However, data on the number of boys affected by child marriage are limited, making it difficult to draw definitive conclusions on its status and progress. Nevertheless, available data confirm that boys are far less likely than girls in the same region to marry before age 18.
In eight countries, more than 10 per cent of boys are married before age 18
Percentage of men aged 20 to 24 years who were first married or in union by age 18, in the eight countries where prevalence rates for child marriage are above 10 per cent
Source: UNICEF global databases, 2014, based on DHS and MICS, 2007–2012.
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