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Unhappily ever after: the fight against early marriage

Briefing/policy paper

Written by David Walker, Nicola Jones, Caroline Harper

Briefing/policy paper

​Record numbers of girls are entering into abusive early marriages in poor countries, many are pushed by parents and are effectively treated as commodities.

Some 39,000 child brides marry every day – 14 million a year – often against their will with devastating consequences. Few use contraception and quickly become pregnant, enduring difficult deliveries and even dying as their bodies are not yet fully developed. Young brides often are also physically and sexually abused, with some even becoming HIV positive as they marry older, more sexually experienced, men. 

Based on ODI field research from Ethiopia, Viet Nam and Uganda, this report looks at the drivers and costs associated with early marriage in several developing country contexts. It argues that there are both economic and social drivers that interweave in complex and sometimes unpredictable ways. Key recommendations are made to legally empower adolescent girls, tackle income poverty and to keep girls in secondary school to provide them with quality education. The report emphasies the need to understand the unique nature of early marriage causes in different contexts in order to address issues surrounding early marriage without generating unforeseen consequences. 

Caroline Harper, Nicola Jones, Elizabeth Presler-Marshall and David Walker