Child marriage

Last update: October 2022 | Next update: June 2024

650 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday

Child marriage, defined as a formal marriage or informal union before the age of 18, is a fundamental violation of human rights, threatening the lives, well-being and futures of girls around the world.  While child marriage occurs among both boys and girls, the prevalence is about five times higher among girls – reflecting societal values that hold girls in low esteem and deprive them of the agency to chart their own course in life. Child marriage often compromises a girl’s healthy transition to adulthood by resulting in early pregnancy, social isolation, interruption of education, limited socio-economic opportunities and increased risk of domestic violence. Moreover, adolescent girls are often married to older men, creating a power dynamic that further disempowers girls and exposes them to greater risks of violence, sexually transmitted diseases and a lack of agency.

Around the world, the practice of child marriage has been on the decline. During the past decade, the proportion of women who were married as children decreased from 23 per cent to 19 per cent. South Asia has experienced the most progress in this time, where a girl’s risk of marrying in childhood has dropped from 46 per cent to 28 per cent. Less progress has been observed in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 35 per cent of young women are married as children today compared to 38 per cent a decade ago. Moreover, over the next ten years, up to 10 million more girls worldwide will be at risk of becoming child brides as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information about child marriage, and to access the data, click here