Media backgrounder: Child, early and forced marriage

November 2014

Plan’s most recent Because I am a Girl State of the World’s Girls report, entitled “Pathways to Power: Creating Sustainable Change for Adolescent Girls”investigates the idea of power – within families, schools, communities and the world at large – and examines the barriers girls face when trying to assert power over their own lives. One of the most widespread and terrible ways that girls are robbed of their power is through the harmful practice of child, early and forced marriage (often more generally referred to as child marriage).

The facts on child, early and forced marriage

Child marriage is a serious human rights violation and harmful practice that occurs in countries across the globe. According to Plan’s recent report, A Girl’s Right to Say No to Marriage:

  • 1 in 3 girls in the developing world will be married by her 18th birthday. That’s 15 million per year, over 41,000 every day, nearly 1 girl every 2 seconds.*
  • Each year, 13.7 million girls in the developing world between the ages of 15-19 give birth while married.
  • Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 in developing countries.
  • Babies born to adolescent mothers are more likely to be stillborn, premature, underweight and at increased risk of dying in infancy due to the mother’s young age.
  • Child brides, who are often married to a much older man, face a higher chance of being infected with sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and being subjected to domestic abuse and sexual violence.
  • Girls with no education are 3 times more likely to marry before the age of 18 than those with a secondary or higher level of education.
  • A recent study by the organization Girls Not Brides reports that a 10% reduction in child marriage among girls could decrease a country’s maternal mortality rate by 70%.
A vicious cycle

Child marriage is made worse by poverty, gender inequality and a lack of adherence to children’s rights. These issues, coupled with a lack of access to education and entrenched social norms, cause the problem of child marriage to grow.

The negative impact of child marriage extends beyond the individual girl and poses a major threat to global poverty reduction and the achievement of broader development goals:

  • Girls drop out or are forced out of school as a result of pregnancy or marriage, and the children of young mothers who have no or little education are less likely to survive infancy.
  • Child marriage reduces the economic chances of a young mother – and that of her child – and perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
Consistent, disturbing illustrations of child marriage, in their own words

Plan spoke directly to over 7,000 adolescent girls and boys across 11 countries for its recent global report, Hear Our Voices: Do Adolescent Girls’ Issues Really Matter?. The study found that many girls do not feel they have power to make decisions about when to get married or have a child:

  • 39% of girls Plan spoke with claimed that girls never or seldom are able to decide about their own marriage.
  • Girls involved in the study revealed that more than half (58%) of adolescent girls never or seldom return to school after having a child. Globally 1 in every 5 adolescent girls are out of school.
  • Over half (53%) of the girls Plan spoke to claimed that adolescent girls never or seldom decide if they become pregnant.
  • “Girls do not have decision-making power over pregnancy. The male says to them, ‘You are machines to birth children.’” – Adolescent girl, Pakistan
How Plan is fighting child marriage

As a leading child rights and international development organization, with over 75 years of experience in developing countries, Plan Canada and its Because I am a Girl initiative has made ending child marriage in developing countries a major priority. Ending child marriage will not happen overnight. Addressing this problem will require collective efforts and resources at local community, national, and international levels.

Some of the ways Plan works to end child marriage:

  • Helping to keep girls in school. It’s proven that girls who receive a higher education are less likely to be married before age 18 than girls who are not in school.
  • Engaging directly with individuals and groups within communities who are working to halt the practice of child marriage.
  • Ensuring children are registered at birth. Without registration, children can’t prove their legal age or claim protection under any legislation that exists in their country specifying a minimum age for marriage.
  • Supporting youth-led groups that raise awareness about children’s rights, including the right not to be forced into marriage at an early age.
  • Reaching out to religious and community leaders – including men and boys – to become advocates of ending child and forced marriage within their own communities.
  • Internationally, Plan supports the Government of Canada in leading a United Nations General Assembly resolution to end child and forced marriage in 2014. A clear statement against this practice from the international community gives strength and support to advocates around the world seeking to change policy, practice, behaviour and attitudes in their own communities.
About Plan and the Because I am a Girl initiative

Founded in 1937, Plan is one of the world’s oldest and largest international development agencies, working in partnership with millions of people around the world to end global poverty. Not for profit, independent and inclusive of all faiths and cultures, Plan has only one agenda: to improve the lives of children. Because I am a Girl is Plan’s global initiative to end gender inequality, promote girls’ rights and lift millions of girls – and everyone around them – out of poverty. Visit plancanada.ca and becauseiamagirl.ca for more information.

Media contact:

Dena Allen, Senior Media and Public Relations Manager, Plan Canada
T: 416.920.1654 x326 | C: 416.723.6340 | dallen@plancanada.ca

*Source: UNICEF, 2014, Ending Child Marriage: Progress and Prospects

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