Breaking the chain: Empowering girls and communities to end child marriage during COVID-19 and beyond – World


Today 650 million married children live in all parts of the world. Child marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights, which has serious consequences for the world economy, peace and security, as well as for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Poverty, fragility, unjust legal systems, and harmful social norms and traditions are among the many factors that support its continued practice. Even in countries with laws to prevent children from marrying before their 18th birthday, social and cultural norms supporting child marriage still exist and undermine any national legislation.

Progress has been made over the past decade – an estimated 25 million child marriages have been avoided – but much remains to be done. Global projections of married girls by 2030 have increased from 100 million to 110 million, based on current estimates that an additional 10 million girls will now be married due to the COVID 19 outbreak. Last year alone (2020) saw the largest increase in child marriage rates in 25 years.1 According to anecdotal data from our programs, between March and December 2020, child marriage more than doubled in many communities compared to 2019. The impacts of COVID -19 severely hamper progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and targets related to ending child marriage and all forms of violence against children by 2030. The sustainable well-being of children within families and communities is at the heart of World Vision’s mission – with a strategic focus on the most vulnerable. Our global campaign It takes a whole world to end violence against children has been implemented in 65 countries, with national campaigns focused on ending child marriage in 21 of those countries.

This report compiles research and data from four unique contexts – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Senegal and Uganda – where World Vision works to address the issue of child marriage. In each of these countries, case studies were developed from first-hand accounts, a desk review of available data, and evidence of promising practices to end child marriage. Where possible, we also reflected the realities of project implementation in the context of COVID-19.ii From the stories, data and research collected, seven key themes emerged:

  1. Incorporating specific actions to end child marriage early in a humanitarian response is essential to support global progress. Designing or adapting existing intervention models to reduce crisis-induced risks and ensure continuity of service delivery will enhance the impact of the response and ensure the continuity of existing efforts.

  2. Empowering women and girls as key decision-makers and agents of change achieves lasting results. Giving women and girls a voice in all aspects of project design and implementation is essential for the success of programs to end child marriage.

  3. Involving men and boys provides greater support structures for girls to say “no” to child marriage. Widespread global gender inequality means that men and boys hold greater social power and are often the ones who decide whether a child should be married. It is important to work with men and boys, alongside women and girls, to effectively end the practice of child marriage.

  4. The participation of religious leaders is essential for a long-term change in cultural and social norms. Religious leaders are respected messengers in their communities who uniquely influence social norms. By engaging the local community and religious leaders, programs to end child marriage can have a broader and lasting impact.

  5. Child marriage is driven by varied and complex factors that require multisectoral solutions, provided by strong child protection systems. The seven evidence-based INSPIRE strategies provide a set of guidelines for comprehensively addressing the factors leading to violence against children, including child marriage.3 When integrated and contextualized, these strategies effectively contribute to reduce and end child marriage.

  6. Education offers alternative pathways and increased opportunities for girls at risk of child marriage. Interventions to end child marriage should be combined with strengthening education programs and building the capacity of local schools.

  7. Community-led social accountability mechanisms are essential to ending child marriage. Providing advocacy is essential for transformation and service delivery. Advocacy at the national and local levels is effective in a variety of contexts and can assist state-societal accountability and development coordination to end child marriage.

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