Efforts Toward Ending Child Marriage Across the Globe


SEATTLE — Every two seconds a young girl gets married. Child marriage is motivated by a variety of different factors including poverty, societal norms, religious laws and inadequate legislative framework.

UNICEF defines child marriage as “a marriage of a girl or boy before the age of 18 and refers to both formal marriages and informal unions in which children under the age of 18 live with a partner as if married.” Informal unions affect girls differently than girls who are married. Informal unions, also called cohabitation, result in girls becoming even more vulnerable as it relates to seeking inheritance, citizenship and social recognition.

Several organizations have made ending child marriage a priority including Girls Not Brides, UNICEF and Save the Children.

The Numbers

Statistics put the facts into the perspective of how prevalent child marriage is. Each year, approximately 12 million girls are married before they turn 18 years old. This translates to a ratio of one in five girls. Child marriage violates girls’ rights to health, education and economic opportunity while exposing them to violence and a cycle of poverty. Because of these violations, ending child marriage and supporting married girls must work with mobilizing families and communities, empowering girls, providing services and implementing laws and policies.

The data below is compiled into a chart of current child marriage rates by region.

RegionPercentage of Girls Married by Age 15 Percentage of Girls Married by Age 18 
West/Central Africa14%41%
Sub-Saharan Africa12%38%
Eastern/Southern Africa9%35%
South Asia8%30%
The Middle East/North Africa3%17%
Europe/Central Asia1%11%

Source: UNICEF

Efforts Toward Ending Child Marriage Across the Globe

The Sustainable Development Goals are goals that were set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in order to transform the world by the year 2030. Ending child marriage is highly advocated for because it interferes with the achievement of at least six of those global goals. The Sustainable Development Goals’ Target 5.3 initiative is to eliminate all harmful practices including early and forced marriage.

Currently, South Asia ranks fourth after previously topping the list of highest percentage of child marriages. In the last 10 years, South Asia has had the largest decline in child marriage rates, decreasing from 50 percent of girls being married by 18 years of age to 30 percent. According to UNICEF, South Asia’s milestone is due to progress made in India: increasing rates of girls’ education, government investments in adolescent girls and strong public messaging around the illegality and harm that child marriage causes.

The second largest decline would be Ethiopia, which saw a 33 percent decline in child marriage rates.

UNICEF is not the only organization putting in efforts to stop and decrease child marriage. Save the Children Programming and Advocacy was founded in 1919 in order to fight for children’s rights. This organization consists of 29 member organizations and Save the Children International. It works in over 60 of the least developed countries around the world. Save the Children has programming and advocacy in humanitarian and development settings to prevent and respond to child marriage. Programming includes Child Poverty, Child Protection, Health and Nutrition, Education and Child Rights Governance.

– Lari’onna Green
Photo: Flickr


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