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.


750,000 child marriages will be averted by 2017


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.

Data Source: UNICEF global databases, 2014, based on DHS, MICS and other nationally representative surveys 2005-2013.

The following graph shows the prevalence of child marriage from 1985 to 2010 and projected trends from 2010 and 2050 under two different scenarios. If current progress continues unchanged, around one in four women aged 20-24 will have married as a child by 2050. But if progress is accelerated, only one girl in six will be a child bride in 2050, compared to nearly one in two today.

Data Source: UNICEF global databases, 2014, based on DHS, MICS and other nationally representative surveys 2005-2013. Population data is from: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2012 revision, CD-ROM edition, United Nations, New York, 2013.

Even though the rate of child marriage is declining, the absolute number of married girls is increasing with population growth. If current progress continues, there will be around 300 million child brides in South Asia by 2050, although nearly 188 million girls will have avoided child marriage.

Data Source: UNICEF global databases, 2014, based on DHS, MICS and other nationally representative surveys 2005-2013. Population data is from: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2012 revision, CD-ROM edition, United Nations, New York, 2013.


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.

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.

Bangladesh: The reform of the 1929 Child Marriage Restraint Act is underway, along with the drafting of a National Plan of Action to End Child Marriage. The Govenrment has also put an emphasis on addressing child marriages in its 7th National Five Year Plan. Sustained advocacy with the Government will be critical to establishing laws and policies that can pave way for programme implementation.

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.

Addressing Child Marriage through education

Based on global and national evidence on strategies, one of strategies that have worked to mitigate child marriage is to keep girls in school and provide alternatives to marriage. UNICEF Bangladesh’s strategy is promoting quality secondary education, especially targeting girls through creating a safe and hygienic environment for adolescent girls, providing some form of ‘second-chance’ education for child who dropped out from schools, bringing girls back to the formal education; and ensuring that teachers are equipped and trained. In this light, UNICEF Bangladesh has supported the Female Stipend Programme that has been evaluated and globally recognised as one of the ‘Eleven Effective Programmes That Have Made Schools Affordable for Girls’ (Source - What Works in Girls Education, Brookings Institution Press, 2016). Closer collaboration and support to improve the efficacy of these programmes can be a powerful tool to ensure that girls remain in school.

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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, accessed 6 April 2015.

Mathur, Sanyuka, Margaret Greene and Anjy Malhotra. (2003), Too Young to Wed: The Lives, Rights, and Health of Young Married Girls, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW).

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, accessed 6 April 2015.


Sonia, Bangladesh

© Shafiqul Alam Kiron

By Akram Hosen Mamun

When Sonia Akhter was in Grade-III, being the top student in her class was her only dream. The girl from Rasulpur village of Barisal was on the road to her dream, studying hard amid her family’s hardships.

One morning as she was getting ready for school, her parents asked her not to go. And what they told her was beyond her wildest imagination. They asked her to get ready for her wedding instead. It was something that she was not ready to grasp as she was only 10 years old.

"I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe my ears," says Sonia, now 13.
"I was the best in my class and that’s all I ever wanted. But everything had changed after that day,” she adds.

Helping prevent child marriage
Sonia's parents were about to marry her off to a man almost three times her age. But thanks to the prompt response of the staff of a Child Friendly Space (CFS), run by a UNICEF partner NGO Aparajeyo-Bangladesh at Rosulpur village of Barisal City, the marriage was averted. She, however, could not continue school for the next one year, which badly affected her learning.

Three years into the incident, Sonia is now in Grade-V at a primary school near her village. She was able to catch up with what she had missed out after attending a UNICEF-supported Ability Based Accelerated Learning (ABAL) programme for out of school children at the CFS.

Apart from making a comeback to her studies, she receives a Life Skills Training at the CFS in her village, where she learns about adolescent hygiene, perils of child marriage, child labour, and basic communication skills.

She now dreams of doing something to end child marriage, a social menace that still thrives in rural Bangladesh.
"I want to be a social worker. I want to fight against child marriage and I guess I will succeed as I almost became a victim and have seen how the social workers can save lives,” she says with conviction.

Driven by poverty
Sonia’s father Sobahan Mia, 70, makes his living by seeking alms while her mother Baby Begum, 50, is a day labourer, earning only around 200-250 taka (US$ 3.1) a day. Hard pressed by poverty, they just wanted to marry her off hoping to have one less mouth to feed.

"The man we wanted her to marry was well-off. He would have been able to take better care of her," says Baby Begum during a recent visit to her tin-shack at Rosulpur.

She adds that the man, who was from a neighbouring village, brought her groceries for a few days before asking for her daughter’s hand in marriage.

Pointing at the rickety structure of her one room shack, she says, "I thought my daughter would be better off anywhere than here and gave him consent."

Dramatic rescue
On the day they were preparing for her marriage, a peer educator of the CFS, Pinky Akhter, 15, went to her house to pick her up on the way to the CFS.

"Sonia’s younger brother Ibrahim, who also went to the CFS, answered the door and he told me that they were expecting some guests and she could not go to school," says Pinky, who played a key role in preventing the child marriage.

"As I’ve grown up in the village, and knew how child marriages are organised, I realised what was going on, and immediately informed the CFS teacher and social worker, who rushed to Sonia’s house," she continued.

They tried to convince Sonia's parents in every possible way. But they were unmoved.
"The girl has grown up. She needs to be married. Would you feed her? Take her and feed her," her mother told the Aparajeyo-Bangladesh staff.
As nothing could make Sonia’s parents change their mind, the NGO staff called the police who came and took her away.
Fearing that her parents or the man who tried to marry her would try to punish Sonia for this, the executive director of Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers´ Association (BNWLA) Salma Ali, who was visiting Barisal at the time, took her to Dhaka where she stayed for several weeks.
Sonia says her parents were very upset that the wedding didn't take place. After that incident she couldn't go to school as people in the neighbourhood would taunt and insult her.

Sonia’s teacher at the CFS, Dipali Mandal, says the legal basis for preventing her marriage was her birth registration certificate.
"Her parents are still angry that we made her register her birth," Dipali says.

Pinky becomes anti-child marriage advocate
The story of Pinky Akhter is also encouraging.
Youngest among six siblings, she saw how child marriage ruined the lives of her sisters. Her two sisters were married off before they were 18 while the oldest one, Nurun Nahar, was only 10 when she was married off. She was divorced within a few days of her wedding. It has been 18 years since she was divorced. And she could never get married because she was married previously.

Despite poverty, Pinky decided that she will not give in. She will continue her studies and fulfil her dreams. And working with the CFS has boosted her confidence.
"I have seen how child marriage ruins lives and that’s why I want to fight it all my life," she says.
Pinky got an A+ in JSC examination and hopes to get good grades in the Secondary School Certificate exam as well.
"I want to be a schoolteacher. I want to do something for people," she said with her face lighting up with joy.

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.