Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

How does child marriage hinder gender equality?

Nurta Mohamed, 13, a Somali girl sits inside her mother's makeshift shelter after she ran away from a suspected forced marriage at the Alafuuto camp for internally displaced persons in Garasbaaley district of Mogadishu, Somalia August 14, 2020. Picture taken August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Child marriage around the world ... there are still 12 million girls married before the age of 18 every year. Image: REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Anna Fruttero
Senior Economist, ECA Poverty and Equity, World Bank
Divyanshi Wadhwa
Experte données, World Bank
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SDG 05: Gender Equality

  • Child marriage has negative consequences for the health, education and economic opportunities of girls and women.
  • The global prevalence of child marriage has declined in recent decades, but there are still 12 million girls married before the age of 18 every year.
  • Child marriage can also increase the risk of domestic violence and other forms of abuse.
  • Ending child marriage requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the root causes of the problem.

SDG 5 calls for achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. But progress toward these aspirations is hindered by gender-driven inequalities, like gendered roles in the household leading women to spend far more time on unpaid and domestic work than men.

Child marriage of girls is still common in many countries.
Child marriage of girls is still common in many countries.

A serious impediment to realizing gender equality is child marriage, which not only deprives girls of their basic human rights but also has detrimental effects on their health and economic well-being. It contributes to a higher prevalence of adolescent pregnancy and childbirth, resulting in increased health risks for young girls. In fact, pregnancy is a leading cause of death among girls aged 15 to 19 in low- and middle-income countries.

Child marriage and adolescent pregnancy also limit educational opportunities for girls and expose them to a higher risk of domestic violence. It isolates young girls from social networks, leading to negative impacts on their mental well-being.

Despite all this evidence and SDG target 5.3, which aims to the practice by 2030, child marriage remains prevalent in numerous countries: one in five girls worldwide still get married before turning 18.

In 20 of the 121 countries with available data, at least one in every 10 women were married by the age of 15. In 96 countries, at least one in 10 women have been married before reaching the age of 18. Among these countries, Niger has the highest rate of child marriage, with three out of every four women getting married before turning 18. Additionally, in seven other countries, including Chad, Mozambique, Mali, and Bangladesh, over 50 percent of women are married by the age of 18.

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The prevalence of child marriage varies across countries and cultures, often driven by factors such as poverty and limited access to education. Climate change can also further exacerbate this issue: when families face a significant loss of income resulting from a climate-related event, they may resort to various coping mechanisms, including increased work, selling assets, withdrawing children from school, and even resorting to early marriages. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, instances of child marriage have been observed to rise following weather-related income shocks.

Explore the prevalence of child marriage in countries by hovering over this interactive data visualization of the 2023 Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals.

To learn more about where we stand in our efforts to provide high-quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all, look at the data stories and visualizations of the fifth story of the Atlas.

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