Child and forced marriage, including in humanitarian settings

Child and forced marriage (CFM) is a human rights violation and a harmful practice that disproportionately affects women and girls globally, preventing them from living their lives free from all forms of violence.

CFM threatens the lives and futures of girls and women around the world, robbing them of their agency to make decisions about their lives, disrupting their education, making them more vulnerable to violence, discrimination and abuse, and preventing their full participation in economic, political and social spheres.
Child marriage is also often accompanied by early and frequent pregnancy and childbirth, resulting in higher than average maternal morbidity and mortality rates.

CFM may lead to women and girls attempting to flee their communities or commit suicide to avoid or escape the marriage.

Definitions of child marriage and forced marriage

Child marriage is any marriage where at least one of the parties is under 18 years of age.

Forced marriage is a marriage in which one and/or both parties have not personally expressed their full and free consent to the union. A child marriage is considered to be a form of forced marriage, given that one and/or both parties have not expressed full, free and informed consent.

One in every five girls is married

Worldwide, more than 650 million women alive today were married as children. Every year, at least 12 million girls are married before they reach the age of 18. This is 28 girls every minute. One in every five girls is married, or in union, before reaching age 18. In the least developed countries, that number doubles: 40 per cent of girls are married before age 18, and 12 per cent of girls are married before age 15. The practice is particularly widespread in conflict-affected countries and humanitarian settings (source: UNICEF).

Despite progress, prevalence remains high

International human rights instruments and international entities stress the need to take measures to address CFM. In recent years, actions to end child and forced marriage have increased at international, regional and national levels (see A/HRC/RES/24/23A/HRC/26/22A/HRC/35/5; A/HRC/41/19; A/71/253; A/73/257; A/75/262). Specific efforts are under way to link these efforts to the implementation and monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 5.3 to eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilations.

In the past decade, 25 million child marriages have been prevented globally thanks to the increased rate of girls’ education, the proactive investment of governments in adolescent girls and greater public awareness of the harms of child marriage. Despite this, the prevalence rate of child and forced marriage remains high, in particular in some regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which represent 18 per cent and 44 per cent, respectively, of the global burden; followed by East Asia and Pacific, 12 percent; Latin America and Caribbean, 9 percent; the Middle East and North Africa, 5 percent; and other regions, 12 percent, according to UNICEF.

No region is on track to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030, as set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To end the practice globally, progress must be significantly accelerated and sustained. Without further acceleration, more than 120 million additional girls will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030. See UNICEF Global Data

Child marriage in the context of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on the everyday lives of girls and the enjoyment of their human rights. Empirical literature and theory on the drivers of child marriage, as well as anecdotal evidence from a number of countries, allow to conclude that the risk of child marriage increases in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. In particular, the economic impact on families and societies, school closures and interruptions in services addressed to girls, are threatening progress and putting millions of girls at risk of child marriage, as illustrated in a recent UNICEF report.

Thematic reports on the issue of child and forced marriage

In 2014, the High Commissioner issued a report on preventing child, early and forced marriage to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/26/22). The report looks at existing measures and strategies to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage with a particular focus on challenges, achievements, best practices and implementation gaps. See submissions received on the report page.

In July 2015, the Human Rights Council adopted its first substantive resolution recognizing child and forced marriage as a human rights violation. In  resolution A/HRC/RES/29/8, the Human Rights Council requested the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to organize an expert workshop to review and discuss the impact of existing strategies and initiatives to address child, early and forced marriage. See the 2017 report submitted to the Council at its thirty-fifth session (A/HRC/35/5) or visit the report page.

The UN Secretary-General’s report (A/71/253) presented at the GA’s 71st session details progress in efforts to eliminate child, early and forced marriages from April 2014 to May 2016. The report provides conclusions and recommendations towards ensuring sustained and effective efforts to eliminate this practice. Access the inputs received from States and other stakeholders on the report page.

The UN Secretary-General’s report (A/73/257) presented at the GA’s 73rd session further analyzes the progress and achievements made towards the elimination of the practice of child early and forced marriage. In its last report (A/75/262), presented at the GA’s 75th session, the UN Secretary-General provides an overview of progress made to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage, with a particular focus on practices and programmes that support already married girls and women.

In its resolution (A/HRC/RES/35/16, July 2017) the Human Rights Council noted with concern that the incidence and risk of child, early and forced marriage is highly exacerbated in humanitarian settings. This is due to various factors, including poverty, insecurity, gender inequality, increased risks of sexual and gender based violence, breakdown of rule of law and state authority, and lack of access to education, among others.

The High Commissioner focused its June 2019 report submitted to the Human Rights Council A/HRC/41/19 on the issue of child, early and forced marriage in humanitarian settings. For more information, please visit the report page.

In July 2019, the Human Rights Council adopted the Resolution A/HRC/RES/41/8 on child, early and forced marriage expressing concern on prevailing impunity and lack of accountability. It requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to organize two regional workshops on child, early and forced marriage and measures to ensure accountability at the community and national levels. The outcome of these workshops will be reflected in a report on this same topic to be presented to the Human Rights Council at its fiftieth session (June/July 2022). 

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Key international and regional instruments addressing CEFM

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