Girl in hijab faces away from camera towards a tall bouquet of flowers in a vase, against a backdrop of a yellow wall in Afghanistan

Ending child marriage

How World Vision works to stop child brides and forced marriage

Children are being exploited

The sad reality is - by the time you finish this sentence, another child will have been forced into a marriage.

Child marriage affects children - mainly girls - around the world. It strips them of their freedom, their right to education and it puts their lives in danger. There isn't just one cause of child marriage, which is why it takes a lot of work to put a stop to it. It happens across religions, cultures and countries and can be caused by poverty, lack of access to education, and cultural, social, and gender norms.

Of the top 25 countries for the highest rates of child marriage, almost all of them are affected by natural disasters, fragility, or conflict. For 70 years, World Vision has been working in these countries to end child marriage. We tackle the root causes like family poverty and work with families and communities to help them understand a girl's worth and the terrible effects early marriage can have on a young person's life.

How we're tackling child marriage

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Child brides: How gender inequality affects child marriage

Although it does affect boys too, forced marriage usually involves a young girl and an older man. Girls can be forced into marriage because of poverty, for their own perceived protection in situations like natural disasters or wars, or because they aren’t seen as equal to boys in their society, sometimes even seen as a financial burden.

For many young girls, getting married seems like the only way to survive, but the consequences of child marriage can be dire and far-reaching:

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More about our work to end child marriage

  • Child marriage is a violation of human rights, whereby one or both people are married before the age of 18. It is often called forced marriage because children can’t give valid consent to marry. Usually, forced marriage involves a young girl and an older man, however it does affect boys too.

    The U.N. Human Rights Council added child marriage to its agenda for action in 2013, declaring it a barrier to development. One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is for all countries to end child marriage by 2030. World Vision is working with communities worldwide to help end child marriage as swiftly as possible.

  • When girls are forced to marry as children, it can cause serious physical and emotional health issues - it damages the child's education and development, and causes the cycle of poverty to continue. Child brides face being isolated from their friends and family at a critical stage of their lives. Girls who haven't even reached their 18th birthday are forced into the role of a grown woman - giving birth, keeping a home, raising a child when they themselves are still children. A child bride's future is forced upon her, and she has to sacrifice any dreams of an education, career, or choosing her partner.

    Other impacts include:
    Loss of education and opportunities - Most married girls do not attend school as they are expected to focus on domestic responsibilities or raise children. This leaves them with no education, limited work opportunities, and no chance to become financially independent - meaning they remain in the cycle of poverty.

    Physical and mental health - Because many of the girls who get married are so young, their bodies aren't yet ready for pregnancy and labour which often leads to health complications for both the mother and baby, and with little access to healthcare in many remote, poverty-stricken communities, it can even be fatal.

    Poverty - In many cases, societal and cultural norms mean that girls are already less able to break out of poverty, and when they're forced to become wives and mothers, their chances become almost non-existent, given that they are usually cut off from education and their chance to break out of the cycle of poverty.

  • There are many causes that can lead to child marriage, and a common misconception about child marriage is that it's always uncaring, abusive parents or predatory older men forcing the situation. However, in many communities, it is simply a lack of understanding and education among families in poverty, and different views about the ages of adulthood and the value of women outside of being wives and mothers. In other cases, people may feel as though marriage is their only option.

    Some of the factors include:
    Gender inequality - As detailed above, unfortunately in many countries women and girls still aren't seen as equal to men and boys. This is influenced by many factors - outdated laws, cultural norms, tradition, and lack of education are just some.

    Lack of awareness - Communities often have strong misconceptions about the value of education for girls and boys, and the risks and consequences of early marriage. When the adults and young people within a community are taught about the dangers of early marriage, and the importance of continuing their education, they're much more likely to prevent and oppose underage marriage.

    Poverty - Although it happens all over the world, child marriage is most closely linked with low levels of economic development. In fact, child brides overwhelmingly come from the world's most impoverished nations. For parents living in extreme poverty or with several mouths to feed, marriage can be seen as a way - or sometimes the only way - to alleviate some of their financial pressures.

    Some communities require a dowry to be paid for, by the bride's family to the groom, and younger bride may mean a lower cost for the girl's family. In cultures where a bride price is paid by the groom to the parents of the bride, a younger bride can be seen as more valuable, so make more money for the family.

    Natural disasters or conflict - When disaster strikes in vulnerable countries, children are often tragically left without parents to support and protect them - and no family to care for them. For many young girls, getting married seems like the only way to survive - providing food and shelter, or when a girl has been forced to flee her home, a husband could be seen as able to provide protection from assault.

    Inadequate or ineffective laws - Laws surrounding the age that someone can legally give consent to get married varies from country to country. Even in countries where the legal age of consent to marry is 18, if the practice of child marriage is deeply rooted in the culture, laws are rarely enforced and many exceptions are made. For example, children may be allowed to marry as long as there is parental consent. In Bangladesh for example, it is illegal to marry before turning 18, however they still have the second-highest level of child marriage of any country in the world - with four million child brides.

  • Child marriage happens all over the world, most commonly in developing countries - but not exclusively. It happens across a vast range of cultures, ethnicities and religions and can be found in almost every region in the world, from Africa to the Middle East, Asia to Europe, and the Americas.


    According to the report, State of the World's Children, conducted by UNICEF in 2017, the countries with the highest rates of child marriage under 18 (counted among women who are now aged 20-24) are:

    Niger* - 76%
    Central African Republic* - 68%
    Chad* - 67%
    Bangladesh* - 59%
    Mali* - 52%
    South Sudan* - 52%
    Burkina Faso - 52%
    Guinea - 51%
    Mozambique* - 48%
    India* - 47%

    *Countries where World Vision works with communities to help the most vulnerable children.

    40% of the world's child brides are in South Asia. Mainly due to the large population of the region and the fact that child marriage has been common here for a long time. India however has been making fast progress towards eliminating child marriage, particularly for girls under the age of 15.
    In sub-Saharan Africa, progress is much slower, and is another region of concern. Africa's larger population means that more children will be at risk of child marriage.