Child Marriage

A young girl in Kenya smiling
Child marriage affects millions of children under the age of 18 every year.
USAID/Kenya - Manoocher

Child marriage affects millions of children under the age of 18 every year, preventing them from living a productive life. Perpetuated by cultural norms, poverty, and lack of access to education, child marriage not only affects the lives of those who are married, but also their families and communities. An estimated 10 million girls are married every year before they reach the age of 18. In the developing world, 1 in 7 girls is married before her 15th birthday, with some child brides as young as 8 or 9.

The consequences of child marriage are severe. National and international indicators on maternal health, education, food security, poverty eradication, HIV/AIDS, and gender equality are all negatively correlated with high child marriage rates. Child brides are under great pressure to prove their fertility, which often results in pregnancies when their bodies are not yet ready, resulting in greater maternal and newborn morbidity. Married girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than married women in their 20s. They are also more likely to experience complications of childbirth including obstetric fistula and hemorrhaging. Child brides are also at greater risk for contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases due to their inability to reject unsafe sexual practices.

USAID’s efforts to end child marriage advance efforts to end gender-based violence while strengthening the Agency’s commitment to children in adversity, gender equality, female empowerment, and youth development.

Recognizing that efforts to end child marriage require a collaborative approach, USAID is working in partnership with international organizations and the private sector while concurrently supporting the voices of change agents at the national, local, and community levels seeking to change attitudes and motivations that perpetuate the practice of child marriage.

Building upon research into best practices for addressing child marriage, USAID will focus on key sectoral interventions, recognizing that integrating interventions in and across multiple sectors and engaging girls and boys, as well as families and communities, are most effective. Additionally, interventions must be designed bearing in mind that promoting girls’ empowerment in numerous contexts (socially, economically, and politically) will enable girls and their families and communities to reject early marriage as an option. The following key principles will guide USAID efforts:

  • Cultivate partnerships broadly
  • Mobilize communities to shift norms that perpetuate child marriage
  • Address the unique needs of married children in programs

USAID has supported numerous programs to address child marriage. Project evaluations and research findings suggest that the following interventions have the greatest promise for reducing child marriage:

  • Efforts integrated within and across sectors
  • Programs that focus on ensuring girls’ education
  • Activities that provide support for married children
  • Interventions to promote enactment and enforcement of laws and policies that delay marriage
  • Programs that enable community mobilization and outreach to shift attitudes

Learn More

Child Marriage Brief (PDF, 98KB)

Ending Child Marriage and Meeting the Needs of Married Children: The USAID Vision for Action (PDF, 464KB)

Fact Sheet: USAID's Vision for Action on Child Marriage


Last updated: February 26, 2013

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