What is child marriage?

Child marriage, or early marriage, refers to any formal marriage or informal union between a child – in most cases, a girl – under the age of 18 and an adult or another child. Child marriages are considered “forced marriages” and are a human rights violation.

Twelve million girls become child brides every year – a grim reality that robs girls of their rights, often forces them to drop out of school, exposes them to violence (sexual, physical and emotional) and thrusts them into experiences that their young minds and bodies are not ready for, like motherhood.

The past decade witnessed a decrease in child marriage by 15%, which equals 25 million girls. However, this positive trend is quickly reversing. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 10 million more girls are at risk of becoming child brides. Girls and their well-being are under threat from increasing poverty, school shutdowns and isolation from friends and peers.

Nearly every two seconds, a girl under 18 is married.

13,375 girls have become brides today.

4 serious health consequences of child marriage

Pregnancy and childbirth complications

Maternal health risks

With child marriage comes pregnancy and childbirth. But young girls are not yet physically ready to give birth. In fact, complications in pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19. Child brides are also more vulnerable to other pregnancy-related injuries such as obstetric fistula, which can have devastating long-term consequences, especially if left untreated.

Domestic violence in child marriage

Domestic violence

When it comes to child marriage, parents often think they are doing what is best for their daughters by having them get married early, believing that their new husbands will provide safety and economic security. However, the reality is that 243 million women and girls globally aged 15 to 49 experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by an intimate partner in the past 12 months. In addition, child brides are more likely to describe their first sexual experience as forced.

Infant mortality

Infant mortality

Pregnancy at a young age has potentially devastating effects not only for mothers but also for their newborns. Stillbirths and newborn deaths are 50% higher among babies born to mothers under the age of 20. In low- and middle-income countries, these babies also face higher risks of low birthweight, preterm delivery and severe neonatal conditions.



In Africa, AIDS is one of the leading causes of death among adolescents age 10 to 19. Child marriage can increase the risk of girls becoming infected with HIV for a few reasons. First, child brides often live in remote regions where access to health care and information about sexual-health services and rights may be limited. As a result, child brides may not have knowledge of HIV risk factors, prevention, treatment or even their basic human right to say “no” to sex with their husbands. Furthermore, girls are sometimes married to older men who have likely had numerous sexual partners.

Child marriage global statistics


Child marriage can lead to early pregnancies. Globally, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls age 15 to 19.

10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage
Child Marriage rate map

6 reasons why child marriage happens

Child marriage

  • Identity: Many girls aren’t registered at birth, so they aren’t able to prove their true age.
  • Gender inequality: Sons are considered more valuable to their families than daughters.
  • Laws: Laws protecting girls aren’t enforced.
  • Poverty: Families living in poverty often see marriage as a way to ensure that their daughters will be taken care of and provided for.
  • Rights: Children and their families are often unaware of their rights.
  • Emergencies: Child marriage is often viewed as a way to secure family resources and keep daughters safe from violence.

What Plan International Canada is doing to stop child marriage

Supporting education

We raise awareness, in partnership with communities and local leaders, of the importance of girls’ education. And we help girls stay in school through initiatives like building boarding schools for at-risk girls.

Empowering youth

We facilitate youth-led groups that promote children’s rights and equality for girls. Our programming encourages group discussions and various activities that help break down gender stereotypes, bolster confidence and empower girls to challenge conventional norms.

Providing training

We improve girls’ access to vocational-skills training to help them pursue a career of their choosing. This training helps girls become resilient and actively engaged in decent work and economic opportunities.

Improving laws that protect girls

We support and empower girls to advocate for changes in laws that raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 and close loopholes. When girls can be more vocal, they become agents of change within their communities.

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Help advance children’s rights and equality for girls  today. 

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