According to UNICEF’s latest figures, the proportion of women who were married as children decreased by 15% in the last decade. The total number of girls married in childhood is now estimated at 12 million a year. 

These new figures point to an accumulated global reduction of 25 million fewer marriages than would have been anticipated under global levels 10 years ago.

Invest in girls 

To sustain the reduction in child marriage amid population growth, Plan International has the following recommendations from 18+, our collaborative, multi-level programme to end child marriage. The model is based on a review of key drivers of child marriage in the region and builds on key principles and priorities that are scalable in different contexts. 

  • Firstly, governments that have not yet heeded the call must set the legal age of marriage to 18 for both girls and boys and enforce these laws to protect children. There are still many cases of child marriage in Malawi because people are not aware of the law change. Youth activists like Charity are tackling this head-on by engaging with their communities using radio, music and theatre to teach them about children’s’ rights and make them aware there is now a law against the practice. 
  • Secondly, we must invest in and support girls’ education. Child marriage is intricately linked to issues of value, power and control.  Educated girls are less likely to marry early and are more employable, allowing them to have more control over their lives. 
  • Further, governments must commit to providing young people with sexual and reproductive health services to reduce teenage pregnancy, an issue that feeds into the child marriage problem. Parents will often ‘solve’ the issue of teenage pregnancy by forcing their daughters to marry. This could be avoided with better education for young people about their bodies and their rights.

Using this innovative model, the 18+ programme has mobilised girls at risk of child marriage so that they have the capabilities to determine their own futures, especially choices about if, when and who they marry.

We must all take action to end child marriage

With these foundations in place and with the support of governments and NGOs, young people are empowered to take on the child marriage problem in their communities. Young people are a vital resource for challenging the prevailing cultural norms that allow child marriage to continue. But we must educate them, support them and give them the tools to create change in their own lives.

To sustain the gains made and accelerate the eradication of child marriage globally, these community and youth-led interventions must be promoted, scaled up and crucially, funded.