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Child Marriage

A girl stands with a group of people behind her

Ending child marriage

We’re working with girls, their families and communities to end child marriage around the world

Every year, 12 million girls around the world are married before the age of 18. While early and child marriage affect both girls and boys, the impact on girls is much greater. Girls growing up in poverty or facing crisis, conflict or disaster are particularly at risk.

Child marriage violates girls’ human rights and robs them of their childhood. Girls who are married before they turn 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence and less likely to stay in school. They are often forced to have children before their bodies are ready.

In communities where child marriage happens, we’re working with girls to make sure they know their rights. We’re educating families on the risks of child marriage, as well as supporting communities to make sure girls are valued and their voices are heard.

12 million girls

are married before the age of 18 each year

More than 150 million girls

will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030

Over 650 million women

alive today were married as children
A girl looks out of a window
After escaping from Boko Haram, Hauwa* is currently living with one of Plan International’s foster families while her family is traced.

What is child marriage?

Child marriage is a formal marriage or informal union that takes place before one or both of the people involved are 18. It also describes a marriage that takes place without the free or valid consent of one or both partners and involves either physical or emotional pressure.

In Nigeria, Hauwa* was abducted when she was nine years old and held captive by Boko Haram for over four years.

“I was sent to the market to buy something when Boko Haram came and captured me and a lot of other girls and women,” she says. “I was forced to get married when I was 11.”

*Name has been changed to protect identity

What causes child marriage?

  • Gender inequality: girls and women often occupy a lower status as a result of social and cultural traditions, attitudes and beliefs that deny them their rights.
  • Poverty: in families on a low income, girls may be seen as an economic burden. The perception that a girl’s potential to earn an income is comparatively poor pushes girls out of their homes and into marriage.
  • Customs: in many countries, the importance of preserving family ‘honour’ and girls’ virginity means parents push their daughters into marriage before they’re ready. People believe marriage safeguards against ‘immoral’ or ‘inappropriate’ behaviour.
  • Failure to enforce laws: sometimes families aren’t aware they’re breaking the law. In some countries early marriage is so prevalent, prosecutions are seldom brought.
  • Conflicts, disasters and emergencies: disasters and emergencies increase economic pressures on households and many families who wouldn’t previously have considered early marriage turn to it as a last resort.
  • Lack of education: girls with no education are more likely to be married before the age of 18 than those with a secondary education.

Help give girls the chance of a brighter future

A mum sits with her two daughters
Ayalnesh with her two daughters in Ethiopia

‘I’ve made it my mission to combat child marriage’

Now 32, Ayalnesh was married to a much older man when she was 12 years old.

“I cried my eyes out when my mother told me I had to marry him but she wouldn’t listen,” Ayalnesh says.

After 13 years of physical abuse, Ayalnesh finally managed to escape. Now she’s a village leader and playing a critical role in ending child marriage in her community – and she’s determined her two daughters, eight-year-old Elamtsehay and 14-year-old Zeynesh, won’t be married young.

Photo of a girl holding a sign saying 'End child marriage'
"I come from an informal settlement where girls are forced into marriage because of poverty and peer pressure. For you to be successful as a girl, you have to get married.” – Georgina, 20, Kenya

Our work to end child marriage

Around the world, we’re working with girls, their families and communities to end child marriage by:

  • empowering young people to advocate and campaign against child marriage
  • providing safe spaces and support networks for girls at risk
  • helping families understand the consequences of child marriage
  • working with communities to make sure girls are valued
  • influencing marriage laws through advocacy and lobbying
  • supporting girls to stay in school and finding sources of financial support to help families pay for their daughters’ school costs.

The role of education

Ending forced marriage requires a major shift in attitudes and beliefs. Legislation alone can’t achieve this and must be supported with extensive educational and community outreach programmes.

  • Educating girls: we work with girls to make sure they’re aware of their rights and the impact child marriage will have on their futures. In countries where forced marriage legislation exists, it’s vital that girls know about it and who to contact if they’re feeling pressured to marry.
  • Educating parents: parents often allow forced marriage because they have traditional beliefs about gender roles and are unaware they’re breaking the law.
  • Educating community leaders: individuals who have important roles in communities set an example for everyone else. If they endorse forced marriage, then people will continue to accept it. We work closely with community role models to help change beliefs.
Photo of a girl with a bicycle

‘We have to empower girls’

In Nepal, Laxmi was 16 when her parents told her they wanted her to get married. She immediately told her friends at the children’s club she attends, which is supported by Plan International.

With the support of one of our local partners she was able to persuade her parents to change their minds.

“We have to empower girls,” Laxmi says. “If more girls are aware of their rights, their situation would be better.”

Photo of Memory in Malawi
"People from across the world listened to stories of my sister, who at just 11 was forced into marriage. The campaign grew to a global petition leading to a change in the constitution in Malawi." – Memory, young campaigner

Our campaign successes

  • Guatemala: in 2015 we helped achieve a huge milestone, as the minimum age for marriage was raised to 18, from 14 for girls and 16 for boys.
  • Malawi: more than 42,000 people signed our petition to end child marriage in Malawi and in 2017, the government approved a bill to make child marriage illegal.
  • Tanzania: our youth-led action was part of a wider movement calling for change. In 2019 the Court of Appeal upheld a ruling raising the minimum age of marriage for girls from 14 to 18.

Give every girl the chance to thrive

Are you at risk of child marriage?

If you’re at risk or have been affected by child marriage, you can call the Karma Nirvana helpline on 0800 5999 247 or visit their website