Posted by: lisacollste | November 17, 2009

New Insights on Preventing Child Marriage: A Global Analysis of Factors and Programs

This document was compiled to analyse the risk and protective factors that may be associated with child marriage, as well as the range of existing programmes addressing child marriage, and what does and does not work in preventing early marriage. According to the Population Council statistics of 2006, one in seven girls in the developing world marries before age 15. This document is intended for policy-makers and development practitioners working on or planning a future programme addressing child marriage.

The work presented here investigates two key questions:

  1. What factors are associated with risk of or protection against child marriage, and ultimately could be the focus of prevention efforts?
  2. What are the current programmatic approaches to prevent child marriage in developing countries, and are these programmes effective?

According to the Executive Summary: “Potential risk and protective factors for child marriage were analyzed for the 20 countries with the highest child marriage prevalence (“hotspot” countries), using Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) data. Findings and recommendations from this analysis include the following:

  • Four of 12 factors analyzed in this study were found to be strongly associated with child marriage: (1) education of girls, (2) age gap, (3) region, and (4) wealth.
  • Girls’ education is the most important factor associated with age at marriage. Secondary education specifically emerges as the factor most strongly associated with reduced prevalence of child marriage, but primary education was the most important for younger girls, many of whom marry at an early age. Therefore, promotion of education at all levels is an effective way to address child marriage.
  • Age gap, or the age difference between husbands and wives, also is strongly associated with child marriage. While the precise nature of this relationship is unknown, education and awareness-raising on the negative outcomes often associated with age gap, such as domestic violence, could help minimize this phenomenon.
  • Some regions within countries have much higher rates of child marriage and require focused attention from intervention efforts.
  • Economic status of the households in which girls live is also an important influence on age at marriage. Prevention efforts could address this by increasing girls’ ability to generate income, by helping families offset the costs of postponing marriage, and by changing local norms on bride price and dowry.
  • Different factors are associated with the marriage of younger girls at the “tipping point” age – the age at which child marriage prevalence in a country starts to increase markedly (usually 13 or 14). Programs seeking to prevent marriage when it first becomes a serious problem should target and tailor efforts to young girls approaching the “tipping point” age.

Existing programs on child marriage were identified through a Web-based search and analyzed for their content. This program scan found the following:

  • Child marriage programs are few and more programs are needed where prevalence is highest.
  • Efforts to reduce child marriage span a range of sectors (such as education, health, legal, policy and economic) and approaches (such as community sensitization, awareness-raising and life-skills education). However, communication and collaboration among programs is limited, hindering the ability to share lessons learned.
  • Monitoring and evaluation, a valuable tool for determining best practices and identifying effective programs for scaling up, is rare among child marriage programs.
  • The unique health, social, educational and economic needs of married girls are underserved by existing child marriage programs.”

Among the recommendations are the following points:

  • Behavior change communication (BCC) and community mobilisation, which can foster community discussion about marriage, should be promoted and employed to both understand and change the social norms that perpetuate child marriage.
  • There is a need both for focus on “hotspot” countries and highest prevalence regions and for more collaboration among existing programmes, including sharing lessons and creating best practices that can lead to broader, more strategic efforts and help to improve child marriage interventions where the practice is most prevalent. Programmes designed for a particular region should be tailored to the specific conditions and situation in that region.
  • Of the programmes scanned, few contained evaluations, highlighting a need for monitoring and evaluation (M&E). In addition, M&E skills are needed, as well as the development of evaluation guidelines that can be applied to a variety of programmes, laws, and government policies working to reduce the prevalence of child marriage. “Guidelines should be dynamic, flexible and updated with the latest lessons learned for programme monitoring and evaluation.”
  • “In addition to prevention, …child marriage efforts should promote the following services: family planning services to postpone the first birth and to increase spacing between children, earlier and more frequent use of maternal health services for young brides and their families, and other reproductive health and HIV services for prevention or treatment. Because adolescent girls are less likely than adult women to seek out such services, they require greater encouragement and community support.”

Specific recommendations to the United States (US) government include developing an integrated set of programmes and policy initiatives with built-in evaluation capacity and cross communication and learning. Featuring several long-running programmes and advocacy efforts known to have reduced child marriage, such as Tostan from Senegal and the Institute of Health Management, Pachod, from India are recommendations for gleaning lessons learned.

Read the document here.

International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)


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