Child marriage in humanitarian crises: Girls and parents speak out on risk and protective factors, decision-making, and solutions



CHILD MARRIAGE is a well-recognized global phenomenon, which may disproportionately impact girls in humanitarian crisis and displacement, such as armed conflict or nature disaster.1 The consequences of such marriages are dire. We know that girls who are married young in humanitarian contexts face poorer educational outcomes, serious physical and sexual violence, poor mental and physical health outcomes, and complications or even death in childbirth. Most importantly, it is a violation of girls’ full rights as children. Research to better understand child marriage in settings of crisis has only recently begun to gain traction. Yet, in spite of the recent progress that has been made, there are still significant gaps in the existing literature for practitioners seeking to develop evidence-based programming.

In order to address these gaps, the Human Rights Center (HRC), Save the Children, and Plan International partnered on a long-term research initiative to strengthen child marriage prevention and response in humanitarian settings. This qualitative study, the second phase of the three-phase initiative, sought to better understand the risk and protective factors, decision-making processes, service and support needs of girls and their caregivers that contribute to vulnerability to child marriage, and community perspectives on solutions for addressing and responding to child marriage in humanitarian settings.


This qualitative study uses a youth-centered, participatory approach in order to ensure adolescent girls’ voices are at the center of research findings and recommendations. Research activities included the following:

• Participatory research workshops with girls ages 10–17. Activities included flower mapping, world café-style focus groups, and drawings or collages.

• Semi-structured interviews with girls ages 14–17, married and unmarried

• Semi-structured interviews with male and female parents and caregivers of adolescent girls

• Semi-structured interviews with key informants in UN agencies, NGOs, government institutions, and community leadership roles

Recruitment took place in two South Sudanese refugee settlements in Uganda and two primarily Syrian urban refugee communities in Jordan. In total, research participants included 280 married and unmarried girls ages 10–17, 67 male and female caregivers, and 46 key informants. The research objectives and instruments were modified following the onset of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in order to better understand its impact on child marriage among displaced Syrians in Jordan. (Data collection in Uganda was completed prior to the pandemic.) Following data collection, coding, and analysis, researchers held 10 workshops with girls and caregivers across the four research sites to ensure the validity of the findings.