Dear sisters and brothers, dear fellow children, we must work… not wait. Not just the politicians and the world leaders, we all need to contribute. Me. You. We. It is our duty.

Let us become the first generation to decide to be the last, let us become the first generation that decides to be the last that sees empty classrooms, lost childhoods, and wasted potentials. Let this be the last time that a girl is forced into early child marriage. Let this end with us. Let's begin this ending... together... today... right here, right now. Let's begin this ending now."

Malala Yousafzai
Activist, Nobel Lecture 2014

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Almost half (45 percent) of girls in South Asia marry before their 18th birthday.2

Child marriage is a form of violence against children.

Married children may lose touch with their family and friends. They may face fewer educational opportunities,
more health risks, a lack of freedom to interact with peers and a lack of livelihood opportunities.

Child marriage affects boys as well as girls.


500,000 child marriages averted by 2021


10 percent reduction in proportion of women aged 20-24 years married by age 18, in countries with at least a 25 percent prevalence of child marriage


UNICEF’s approach to ending child marriage in South Asia recognises the complex nature of the problem, and the socio-cultural and structural factors underpinning the practice. Our approach therefore envisions success in two timeframes. In the short term (5-10 years), we see a critical mass of children, families and communities changing their attitudes and behaviour; in the longer term (10-30 years), we see aspirations for all children upheld by new social norms.
UNICEF considers fi ve entry points to accelerate these changes: (i) to increase agency and resources for adolescents – especially girls – at risk of and affected by child marriage; (ii) to enhance legal and development policy frameworks for an enabling environment that protects the rights of adolescent girls and boys; (iii) to increase the generation and use of a robust evidence base for advocacy, programming, learning and tracking progress; (iv) to enhance systems and services that respond to the needs of adolescents at risk of or affected by child marriage; and (v) to increase social action, acceptance, and visibility around investing in and supporting girls, and shifting social expectations relating to girls, including by engaging boys and men.

South Asia Framework to End Child Marriage, ROSA, UNICEF

theory of change


South Asia has the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Almost half (45 percent) of all women aged 20-24 reported being married before the age of 18. Almost one in fi ve girls (17 percent) are married before the age of 15.3
Child marriage is declining (63 percent in 1985 to 45 percent in 2010) in South Asia, with the decline being especially marked for girls under 15 (32 percent in 1985 to 17 percent in 2010). The marriage of girls aged 15-18 is still commonplace, so more efforts are needed to protect older adolescents from marriage.

Note: The projected percentage based on observed trends (red dotted line) applies the annual rate of reduction observed from 1990-2015. The accelerated scenario (purple dotted line) assumes a doubling in the rate of reduction. Analysis includes data from 7 countries in South Asia, covering 26% of the South Asian female population.
Source: UNICEF global databases, 2016, based on DHS, MICS and other nationally representative surveys, 2007-2015. .


Political commitments

Regional plans: The South Asia Initiative to End Violence against Children (SAIEVAC) with the Nepal Centre for Reproductive Rights and the Regional Initiative for South Asia Human Rights Mechanisms bring the Regional Action Plan to End Child Marriage to the national human rights mechanisms and their processes through organising ‘Accelerating Efforts to End Child Marriage in South Asia through Joint Action with Regional and National Human Rights Institutions and in Partnership with Key Regional Partners’ in May 2016. Second Regional Convening on using law to promote accountability to end Child Marriage in South Asia was organised in September 2016 to accelerate the implementation of the Plan through advocacy targeting SAARC.
Nepal: On 23 March 2016, Nepal hosted its first ever Girl Summit as part of its commitment to the 2014 London Girl Summit, to end child marriage by 2030. The event, hosted by the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare with technical and financial support from DFID and UNICEF, was inaugurated by Rt. Honourable President Bidhya Devi Bhandari with His Royal Highness Prince Harry of the United Kingdom. Prior to the Summit, over 400 adolescent girls and boys discussed child marriage with adult stakeholders in 15 high child marriage prevalent districts. The event culminated with the re-affirmation of the government’s commitment to end child marriage as well as commitments from young people, community members, religious leaders and civil society. During the Summit, the Secretary of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare announced that the National Strategy to End Child Marriage was endorsed by the Cabinet.
Afghanistan: The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has taken steps forward to address early and child marriage though a launch of the National Action Plan to Eliminate Early and Child Marriage 2017-2021. The Plan was formulated under leadership of the Deputy Ministry for Youth Affairs and Ministry of Women’s Affairs with the support of UNFPA, and its development included sectorial ministries, United Nations agencies including UNICEF, international and civil society organizations at national and regional levels. Launched in April 2017, the Plan seeks to address the complex nature of early and child marriage in Afghanistan, encouraging stakeholders to consider the root causes and identify areas of improvement, access to and delivery of, and effective/ efficient services.

Preventing Child Marriage

An easily accessible window for children in need of help is crucial to address child marriage. The Child Helpline operates a 24-hour telephone line and provides emergency support to children at risk, as well as to concerned citizens who need to raise the alarm about certain child protection concerns. The service also links children with existing social protection services through rescue, safe shelter, referral and networking.
Bangladesh’s child helpline began as a pilot in Dhaka in 2009. Since mid-2015, it has been operating as a government-run centralized service that covers the whole country. Children can call 1098 free of charge and speak confidentially to the helpline professionals. The service has three main functions - providing information, counselling and emergency rescues.
The line is manned by a team trained by UNICEF in counselling and child rights. The helpline is connected with 40 mobile response teams on the ground, consisting of local police, child protection officers, social welfare officers, NGOs, local leaders and child welfare boards. The team deal with a range of issues by phone – from problems at school to sexual abuse to child marriage. In the past year, the line has taken more than 430 calls related to underage weddings and just this month has stopped more than 70.

Birth registration a passport to protection

Without knowing the age of person, we do not know who marry as a child. Almost 60 million children in Pakistan are not registered at birth – approximately 65 percent of children in the country. UNICEF support the Federal Government to deliver on its commitments under the Asia Pacific Regional Action Framework to ensure universal Civil Registration and Vital Statistics by 2024, more specifically for universal marriage registration as mitigation against child marriage in Pakistan. UNICEF and the mobile phone operator Telenor entered into a partnership to utilise mobile technology to improve birth registration rates in Sindh and Punjab provinces. The approach brings supply and demand closer, through the near-to-real-time delivery of birth registration processes at the village level. In 2015, encouraged by successes (birth registration increased by 127% in Punjab and 350% in Sindh, with significant gender parity improvement - 49% girls and 51% boys), both provincial governments, with UNICEF assistance, committed to scale up birth registration in 15 districts, to achieve universal birth registration within the next three years. This is expected to result in the registration of over 10 million children in 15 districts of the 2 provinces with expected positive outcomes on child marriage reduction.

theory of change

Gender Disparity
Relative numbers of child brides and grooms vary between countries, but girls are more likely to be married as children than boys throughout the region. In Nepal: 41 percent of women and 11 percent of men aged 20-24 were first married by the age of 18.4 In India, median age at first marriage of ever married women (age 10 and above) is 18.6 and that of ever married men is 23.3.5, however in some States in India the child groom rate can be as high as 15 percent.6

theory of change

Healthcare Disparity
Child brides are less likely to receive proper medical care while pregnant. In Bangladesh and Nepal women who married as adults were at least twice as likely to have delivered their most recent baby in a health facility compared to women who married before the age of 15.7

theory of change

Economic Disparity
In South Asia, 72 percent of women age 20-24 living in the poorest households were married before the age of 18 compared to only 18 percent of the same age women living in the richest households.8

theory of change

Geographic Disparity
In South Asia, 54 percent of women age 20-24 living in rural areas were married before the age of 18 compared to 29 percent of the same aged women living in urban areas. 9

theory of change

Educational Disparity
In Bangladesh, for women with a secondary or higher education the median age at first marriage is 20; for those women with no education the median age at first marriage is 15.10

A new global development agenda – Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development acknowledges that sustainable and positive outcomes in development will not be achieved unless violence against children ends. All children must be able to live free from fear and violence. It recognises that all harmful practices, including child marriage, need to cease.

Child marriage is included within Goal 5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” with Target 5.3 “Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

Target 5.3 will be measure with percent of women aged 20 – 24 who were married or in union before the age of 18.


Wodon, Quentin T., et al., Economic impacts of child marriage: global synthesis report. Economic Impacts of Child Marriage, Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group, 2017 JuRI-Nepal, Centre for Reproductive Rights, and UNFPA, Ending Impunity for Child Marriage in Nepal: A review of normative and implementation gaps, 2016

Amin, S. et al., Delaying child marriage through community-based skills-development programs for girls: Results from a randomized controlled study in rural Bangladesh, New York and Dhaka, Bangladesh: Population Council, 2016

Parsons, Jennifer, and Jennifer McCleary-Sills, Preventing child marriage: lessons from World Bank Group gender impact evaluations, Gender Group, World Bank Group, 2014

UNICEF and UNFPA, Ending Child Marriage in Bangladesh, 2017

UNICEF and UNFPA, Ending Child Marriage in India, 2017

UNICEF and UNFPA, Ending Child Marriage in Nepal, 2017

UNICEF and UNFPA, Mapping of Child Marriage Initiative in South Asia, 2016

ECPAT International, Unrecognised Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children in Child, Early and Forced Marriage, 2015

UNICEF, Reducing Child Marriage in India: A model to scale up results, 2016

Singh, Renu. And Uma Vennam, Factors Shaping Trajectories to Child and Early Marriage: Evidence from Young Lives in India, 2016

UNICEF, District-level study on child marriage in India: What do we know about the prevalence, trends and patterns?, 2015

International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and UNICEF, Child marriage, adolescent pregnancy and family formation in West and Central Africa: patterns, trends and drivers of change, 2015

Lee-Rife, Susan, et al, What Works to Prevent Child Marriage: A Review of the Evidence, Studies in Family Planning, vol. 43, no. 4, 2012, pp 287–303

Solotaroff, Jennifer L., and Rohini Prabha Pande, Violence against Women and Girls – Lessons from South Asia, South Asia Development Forum, World Bank, Washington, D.C., 2014


Sonia, Bangladesh

© Paula Bronstein


“Since I stopped my own marriage, I have been trying to help other girls,” says Priti Rajwat.
Today the 24 year old is receiving an award to recognize her efforts, at a community Mela organized to promote the Ladli Saman (value your daughters) campaign, supported by UNICEF. The event in Dardahind, Rajasthan, has performances, talks and even acrobats – a different approach to spreading the message on ending child marriage.
Priti was 16 when her father got her engaged to a boy from a nearby village. He had had a stroke and feared that he could not take care of his daughter. The community generally supported him.
“I told him, no, I wanted to complete my education,” says Priti. However, it was persuading her grandfather, who then persuaded her mother and father, that won her freedom.
She now works as a special needs teacher and campaigns against child marriage, in the village that she comes from. Recently she stopped four sisters – aged seven, nine, eleven and thirteen – from being wed.
“A proposal had come for two of the girls, so the mother thought she would just marry them all together,” explains Priti. “I went to speak to the mother and shared my experience.”
The mother was not easily convinced.
“I suggested admitting the girls into government school where education is completely free and they even give food,” says Priti. “I told her if the girls get married they won’t have an education and they won’t be able to work and support the family or themselves. I also promised to give my own time to support them.”
After two months, finally there was a breakthrough.
“All the girls are now continuing with their education and did not get married,” says Priti with a smile. “These successes are my motivation.”

1. WB govt launches ‘Kanyashree’ to prevent child marriage, October 1, 2013.
2. United Nations Children’s Fund, The State of the World’s Children 2015 – Reimagine the future: innovation for every child.
3. United Nations Children’s Fund, The State of the World’s Children 2015 – Reimagine the future: innovation for every child.
4. Nepal Demographic and Health Survey, 2011.
5. Rapid Survey of Children 2013/14, India
6. Census 2011.
7. United Nations Children’s Fund, 2014, Ending Child Marriage – Progress and Prospects.
8. United Nations Population Fund, 2012, Marrying Too Young – End child marriage.
9. Ibid.
10. Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey, 2014.