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Child Marriage: What We Know

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Who is affected?

  • More than 100 million girls in the developing world will be married during the next 10 years.

  • Although the definition of child marriage includes boys, most children married under the age of 18 years are girls.

  • While the practice has decreased globally over the last 30 years, it remains common in rural areas and among the poorest of the poor.

  • In Southern Asia, 48%—nearly 10 million—of girls are married before the age of 18.

  • In Africa, 42% of girls were married before turning 18.

  • In Latin America and the Caribbean, 29% of girls are married by age 18.

What are the effects of child marriage?

Child brides are more likely than unmarried girls to die younger, suffer from health problems, live in poverty and remain illiterate.

Child Marriage Around the World
Percentage of girls marrying before the age of 18
1 Niger 76.6
2 Chad 71.5
3 Bangladesh 68.7
4 Mali 65.4
5 Guinea 64.5
6 Central African Republic 57.0
7 Nepal 56.1
8 Mozambique 55.9
9 Uganda 54.1
10 Burkina Faso 51.9
11 India 50.0
12 Ethiopia 49.1
13 Liberia 48.4
13 Yemen 48.4
15 Cameroon 47.2
16 Eritrea 47.0
17 Malawi 46.9
18 Nicaragua 43.3
18 Nigeria 43.3
20 Zambia 42.1
Source: ICRW 2007
  • Premature Pregnancy: Child brides almost always bear children before they are physically - or emotionally - ready.

  • Maternal Mortality: Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die during child birth or pregnancy than older women. Pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of mortality for girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide.

  • Infant Mortality: Mortality rates for babies born to mothers under age 20 are almost 75% higher than for children born to older mothers. The children that survive are more likely to be premature, have a low birth weight, and are more at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS.

  • Health Problems: Premature childbirth can lead to a variety of health problems for mothers, including fistula, a debilitating condition that causes chronic incontinence. Girls with fistula are often abandoned by their husbands and ostracized by society. There are approximately 2 million girls living with fistula, and 100,000 new cases every year.

  • HIV/AIDS: Married girls may be more likely to contract sexually transmitted disease, including HIV/AIDS, than unmarried girls. Young girls are more physically susceptible to STD's, have less access to reproductive education and health services and are often powerless to demand the use of contraception.

  • Illiteracy: Child brides are often pulled out of school and denied further education. Their children are also more likely to be illiterate.

  • Poverty: Child brides - already poor - are isolated and denied education and employment opportunities, making it difficult for them break out of the cycle of poverty.

  • Abuse and Violence: Child brides are more likely to experience domestic abuse, and violence than their peers who marry later.

  • Mental Health: Violence and abuse can lead to post-traumatic stress and depression.

  • Isolation and Abandonment: Child brides are often isolated from their peers and abandoned if they develop health problems like fistula.

What can be done to prevent child marriage?


  • Girls with a secondary education are up to six times less likely to marry young compared to girls with little or no education.

  • Education delays the age at which a woman marries.

  • Education provides an alternative opportunity for girls other than marriage.

  • Education increases socio-economic status and earning potential for girls.

Employment/Poverty Reduction

The world's poorest countries have the highest rates of child marriage. Families often marry girls off to lessen their economic burden and provide a future for their daughters.

  • Girls from poor families are about twice as likely to marry young than girls from better-off households.

  • Girls who earn a wage may be seen as an economic asset, not a burden, by their families.

  • Girls who earn a wage are less dependent on others to provide for them.

To learn more about child marriage

» Expert Q&A

Child Rights Information Network

International Center for Research on Women(ICRW)

Population Council




Centers for Disease Control: Health Consequences of Child Marriage in Africa

ICRW: Child Marriage and Education (PDF)

New Insights on Preventing Child Marriage (PDF)

IWHC: Child Marriage Fact Sheet

Population Council: The Implications of Early Marriage for HIV/AIDS Policy (PDF)

UNFPA: Child Marriage Fact Sheet

UNICEF: Child Marriage