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‘There should be some freedom in our lives’: Exploring adolescent girls’ experiences of child marriage

Research reports

Written by Elizabeth Presler-Marshall, Nicola Jones

Each year, 12 million girls marry before they become adults (Girls Not Brides, 2022a). Despite progress on reducing rates of child marriage, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that one-fifth of the world’s girls will marry in childhood – and that rates are likely to climb over the coming decade due to disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic (UNICEF, 2022). Driven by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, which calls for the elimination of child marriage (United Nations (UN), 2022), as well as the global economic cost of child marriage (estimated to be hundreds of billions of dollars) (Wodon et al., 2017), there is an ever-growing body of evidence that explores the drivers and correlates of child marriage (Harrison, 2023; Siddiqi and Greene, 2022; Malhotra and Elnakib, 2021; Psaki et al., 2021).

There is also research that documents the impacts of child marriage on married girls (Harrison, 2023; Siddiqi and Greene, 2022; Malhotra and Elnakib, 2021). It finds that child marriage can have devastating health consequences for girls, sometimes even resulting in their death (Fan and Koski, 2022; Girls Not Brides, 2022b); it disrupts girls’ education (Girls Not Brides, 2022d; McCleary-Sills et al., 2015); it leads to an increased risk of violence (Girls Not Brides, 2022c; Kidman, 2017); and limits girls’ access to decision-making and to support from friends (Al Kloub et al., 2019; John et al., 2019). Although the evidence base on child marriage is growing exponentially (Siddiqi and Greene, 2022), Plesons et al. (2021) note that there is much to be done if the international community is to deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Far too little research is aimed at understanding how best to support the girls married in childhood, despite evidence that their broader needs are not being well met by mainstream services (Harrison, 2023; Siddiqi and Greene, 2022;Plesons et al., 2021).

Authors: Elizabeth Presler-Marshall, Erin Oakley, Nicola Jones, Sarah Alheiwidi, Khadija Mitu, Workneh Yadete, Sally Youssef, Silvia Guglielmi, Sarah Baird and Agnieszka Małachowska