Policy Brief: Using Data to Target and Scale-Up Girls’ Support Programs and Child Marriage Prevention

Of the women in the world today, approximately 250,000,000 were married before the age of 15, and another approximately 450,000,000 were married between the ages of 15 and 18 (United Nations Children’s Fund 2014). Though child marriage is declining globally, it is estimated that over 100 million girls under age 18 will be married in the next decade (UNICEF 2015). Risk for child marriage varies, even within a country, with risk factors including things such as poverty, ethnic group, and rural residency. The detrimental effects of child marriage, however, are universal: girls who are married as children lose their childhood and often become socially isolated; have limited educational and employment opportunities; and, being young and lacking skills to negotiate safer sex, are vulnerable to early pregnancy (and its many associated negative consequences) and HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Child marriage is most prevalent in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Though median age at first marriage has been on the rise over the past three decades, Ethiopia falls in the top 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage: among 20-49-year-old women, 58 percent were married or in union before the age of 18.