Child Marriage: Stop the Weddings

The situation facing millions of young girls is desperate, but not definite.

Child marriage

Imagine if every child in the UK was taken out of school tomorrow and forced to marry. That’s 10 million children.   


Child marriage—marriage before the age of 18, including informal unions—is an injustice and a human rights violation. Yet, despite being illegal in many countries, it remains widespread. And it’s getting worse.    

More than 100 million girls were expected to become child brides in the next decade.   

Now, up to 10 million more girls will be at risk as a direct result of the pandemic.  

That’s equivalent to every child at school in the UK.  

Girls under 18 who marry are more likely to leave school, experience domestic violence, and die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth.  

The situation facing millions of girls is desperate, but not definite. 

It’s time to stop the weddings.  


Thank you for Helping to Stop The Weddings

The highest rate of marriage amongst those under 15 years old is found in Bangladesh. The need is great. Thanks to your support, your funding will train 80 Compassion staff and 144 parents and caregivers of Compassion-supported children to deliver community-based workshops on the dangers of child marriage.  

Workshops will be delivered over the space of a year to more than 8,500 household members across 36 Compassion projects.   

The Compassion sponsorship programme already provides girls in Bangladesh with a good education, skills, encouragement, and social support. Thanks to your donations to Compassion’s intervention, you’ve helped educate the wider community on the dangers and disadvantages of child marriage and protected young girls’ futures.  

To hear more about Compassion’s work, sign up for our monthly newsletter. 

Yerosen’s story: Saved from marriage at 12 years old 

Yerosen’s testimony speaks powerfully of the realities of child marriage, and how our local partners, through child sponsorship and community education, are fighting for girls’ rights in the countries where we serve.  

“I prayed to God to deliver me from my abductor, to let me go back to my family, and for them not to harm me. I prayed every day and believed with all my heart,” Yerosen, 12, Ethiopia. 

Yerosen was a victim of the illegal practice of ‘marriage by abduction’, which is common in Ethiopia; 69% of child marriages begin this way. At just 12 years old, she was abducted and spent three months with her captor, a 35-year-old man. 

Compassion project director Abdi led the search and rescue efforts. Even after her grandfather gave up and accepted a dowry to give his granddaughter in marriage to her abductor, Compassion’s church partner continued the search until she was found safe. Compassion’s staff helped her find a safe and loving home with a foster family. 

“Had it not been for Abdi, the church and the prayer of everyone who knows me, I would have been married by now,” she said. “I’m happy in my new home. I just can’t wait to grow up and prove to everyone that I survived for a reason—to fight for other girls like the church fought for me.” 


More testimonials and information about child marriage 


Compassion UK

Words by Compassion UK


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Your questions answered

We’ve answered some of the questions you may have about child marriage.

According to the United Nations, ‘child marriage is any marriage where at least one of the parties is under 18 years of age. Forced marriage is a marriage in which one and/or both parties have not personally expressed their full and free consent to the union’.
Yes, boys are at risk, and Compassion serves to prevent marriages below the legal age for boys.   According to UNICEF, an estimated 115 million boys and men around the world were married as children. Of this number of children, 1 in 5, or 23 million, were married before the age of 15. So it’s a big problem.    Child marriage statistics show that girls remain disproportionately affected, with 1 in 5 young women aged 20 to 24 years old married before their 18th birthday, compared to 1 in 30 young men.  
Child brides can be found in every region worldwide, including England and Wales. Although many countries have minimum age requirements, and many stipulate parental consent, informal unions may provide a way around this. Recorded cases are likely to be only a fraction of the number of overall cases. As many unions take place in religious ceremonies that aren’t formalised, it's difficult to capture the true number of married girls both here in the UK and around the world.  According to a UNICEF report, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have the highest rates of child marriage among girls. The highest overall number of child marriages in the world can be found in Niger. The highest rate of marriage amongst those under 15 years old is found in Bangladesh. Globally, South Asia accounts for 42% of all child brides with India making up one-third of the worldwide total.   Communities with high rates of poverty are more likely to have a higher number of child brides, and rural communities have a higher incidence of early marriage than urban communities. For example, in Ethiopia 75% of girls are married before their 18th birthday in Amhara (northern Ethiopia), whereas in the nation’s capital, Addis Ababa, the risk of child marriage is much lower, with 26% of girls being married before 18. This pattern is reflected across West and Central Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
Most countries have a legal minimum age of marriage to protect against the practice of early unions, but they’re often difficult to enforce. The causes are many, from poverty to conservative cultural beliefs, gender inequality, and sexual violence and abuse. Because of this, it is not surprising that this number is mostly made up of children who live in contexts of poverty and sexism, where the practice is part of society’s social norms.   Poverty 
There’s a substantial gap in the prevalence of child marriage between the poorest and richest communities. UNICEF reports that ‘females in the poorest quintile are 2.5 times more likely to marry in childhood than those living in the wealthiest quintile. For example, in the Dominican Republic, at least half of the poorest women entered into their first marriage or union at about age 17 compared to age 21 among the richest women.’   When a family is struggling with the basic necessities of life like food, any child is an extra mouth, and if a girl can get married, that is one less mouth they have to worry about.    More importantly, there’s an exchange of dowry or bride price in many of those marriages, so sometimes a family is financially pressed to get those extra resources to feed the other children.   What’s a dowry?
Dowries are most common in South Asia. The bride's family pays the groom's family in money, goods or property. The younger a girl is, the lower the dowry payment. This encourages younger marriages.   What’s bride price? 
Bride price is most common in sub-Saharan Africa and is the reverse of a dowry. The groom's family pays the bride's family in money, goods or property.   Gender inequality 
Where there is gender inequality, the objectification of women, and the lack of development opportunities (including education and employment), a women’s place is often seen solely as a sexual object and the caretakers of the home. Girls are especially vulnerable in some communities to false promises made by older men.   FGM and child marriage often go hand in hand. FGM is especially prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, but the practice exists worldwide. UNICEF reports that in Kenya almost 1 in 4 girls are married before age 18, almost 1 in 20 by age 15. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a brutal ritual. It involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is usually performed on girls before the age of 15—sometimes as young as babies and traditionally signals a girl’s readiness for marriage. FGM is a violation of children’s human rights. The consequences of child marriage are immediate and life-long. Infections, chronic pain, difficulty urinating, infertility, psychological trauma—and even death. Despite child marriage laws making the practice illegal in most of these countries, FGM continues in Western, Eastern, and North-Eastern Africa, as well as among migrants in places like Australia, Canada, Europe, and the United States.   Stigma persists for girls and families when they don’t follow traditional gender roles and expectations.  
Experts highlight three primary drivers of why this is happening.   The first is the loss of education. Because of lockdowns, children have been kept from going to school.   The second is a declining family income. Parents have lost their jobs, and they're struggling to provide for their families.   The third is isolation. Families have been in lockdown. They don't have access to places they would normally go for help in these situations, such as churches and community groups, local government or charities. Crucially, as children have been prevented from going to school, teachers haven’t been in contact with students they know are vulnerable.  
The consequences of child marriage are incredibly serious to both the girl and wider society. Girls under 18 who marry are more likely to leave school, experience domestic violence, and die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. More widely, it deprives girls of access to education. Millions of girls each year lose the choice to shape their own futures and live out their potential to lead change in their communities and solve global problems.   Child marriage statistics: Education can help prevent child marriage: Research by the World Bank shows that Each year of secondary education can reduce the likelihood of marrying before the age of 18 by five percentage points or more in many countries.  Pregnancy as a result of child marriage can be deadly: Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for 15–19-year-old girls globally.  
Part of what we can do is increase awareness by raising our voices and amplifying those of girls in communities where child marriage is most prevalent - to say ‘Stop the Weddings’.  In conjunction with this we also work closely with communities to help educate them about the dangers of child marriage, and we serve and protect girls through child sponsorship in the following ways.  Access to education: Girls that stay in school longer, get married later. Research by The World Bank shows that each year of secondary education a girl receives can reduce the likelihood of marrying before the age of 18 by five percentage points or more in many countries. With the Compassion child sponsorship programme, a girl in poverty receives the fees and resources to go to school. Compassion sponsored children are 41.6% more likely to finish secondary school.   Protection from female genital mutilation (FGM): More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut. Compassion’s church-driven project allows girls a safe space where staff work sensitively to educate families and communities about the dangers of FGM and protect girls at risk.   Child protection: Compassion’s staff are highly trained in safeguarding. In addition, there are dedicated safeguarding professionals where staff, caregivers and sponsored children can seek advice and help. Staff know each child by name and care for them deeply. If a child is in danger or goes missing, Compassion’s staff are well placed to notice and act quickly. Additionally, by providing educational resources, health and nutritional support, sponsorship relieves the financial strain on a girl’s family. By reducing the desperation that extreme poverty brings, families feel less pressured into giving their daughters in marriage.   Opportunities for long-term employment: 496 million adult women are illiterate and account for more than half of the world’s 781 million illiterate adults. Compassion supported children are 35.9% more likely to get a white-collar job and 75% more likely to be community leaders. This brings families out of poverty for good, breaking the cycle and protecting the next generation of girls.  Increase education in the community around the dangers of child marriage: By providing good quality community training on the dangers and disadvantages of child marriage, Compassion is helping to change attitudes to this harmful practice. For example, in the Dominican Republic, project staff have increased their counselling efforts with girls and their families; in Ethiopia, guest speakers facilitate workshops to educate communities about keeping girls safe from early marriage; girls clubs in Brazil prepare teenagers for the joys and challenges of womanhood and in Bangladesh, parents and children gather at the project in small groups to discuss the dangers of child marriage.    

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Compassion UK Christian Child Development, registered charity in England and Wales (1077216) and Scotland (SC045059). A company limited by guarantee, Registered in England and Wales company number 03719092. Registered address: Compassion House, Barley Way, Fleet, Hampshire, GU51 2UT.