Child marriage can have devastating effects on individual girls and their (future) children: Typically, it cuts short or ends a girls education, compromises her reproductive rights, sexual health, future employment and earnings, and perpetuates personal and community poverty. While gender inequality, poverty, tradition and lack of education are acknowledged as root causes of child marriage, the mapping showed a rich diversity in how child marriage is interconnected with local traditions and rites. These include female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), notions of family honour, puberty (menarche), virginity, parental concerns surrounding premarital sex and pregnancy, dowry pressures, the perception that marriage provides protection from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and the desire to secure social, economic or political alliances.†
In some contexts, particularly where women have low status, child marriage is seen as an effective way to reduce household poverty and relieve the financial burden that girls place on their families. Child marriage tends to increase in humanitarian emergencies and conflict settings. Economic shocks, such as natural disasters and protracted crises, have a direct impact on girls. The lack of a functioning civil registration system (which provides proof of age for children), weak legislative frameworks that include provisions allowing underage marriage with parental consent or court approval, customary or religious laws that condone child marriage and the lack of accompanying enforcement mechanisms hinder the prevention of child marriage and erode the effectiveness of official legislative intentions.
Put girls† empowermentat the forefront of programming and seek their involvement. To challenge the assumption of girls as passive beneficiaries, programmes should put adolescent girls at the forefront of programming and ensure that they are included in the entire project cycle. Programmes that work directly with girls, such as the creation of safe spaces, should use rightsbased approaches. They should aim to build girls† confidenceand enable them to stand up for their rights. The involvement of older girls and young women as mentors and role models, within a safe environment, are effective strategies for helping younger girls make positive decisions for the future.†Explore the role of men and boys in preventing child marriage. Programmes should explore and extend the knowledge and evidence base of how men and boys can be engaged in the prevention and mitigation of child marriage. Informants stressed the importance of involving girls themselves in any interventions. Working on child marriage prevention and mitigation at the local level can have a liberating effect on an entire community, especially when its members, including girls themselves, are involved in identifying behaviours and practices that are perpetuating and deepening the cycle of poverty.† Ground programmes in local communities and seek their partnership. Actors should ensure that child marriage prevention programmes are grounded in, and responsive to, the context of target communities. This means that programmes should be built on a sound analysis of the local child marriage narrative, and that the development and implementation of national action plans and strategies include a bottom-up approach.†
Advocacy efforts have been largely successful; what is most important now is focusing on the practical needs of girls. Respondents believed that the current advocacy efforts at regional and national levels have increased awareness and strengthened commitment to accelerate action to end child marriage, especially among influential stakeholders such as parliamentarians. Avoid demonizing the practice of child marriage, which could alienate certain target groups. Advocacy messages should be scrutinized to minimize potentially negative impact. This includes criminalizing the practice, which could alienate those who, in reality, have very limited choices and believe that marriage is the best option available to them. Rather, a less judgemental approach should be taken, which lays out sound evidence for the harmful effects and proposes alternative solutions that can help address the underlying causes that leads to the practice.† The use of mentors and role models for girls is often successful. The respondents reported success with using mentors and role models; in this way, younger girls can experience first-hand what they can aspire to. Supporting the development of self-respect and a sense of empowerment means that a girl can be better prepared to stand up for herself, rather than accepting that adults will make decisions for her.†