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Breaking the Chain: Empowering girls and communities to end child marriages during COVID-19 and beyond

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Right now, there are 650 million child brides living in every region of the world. Child marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights, which severely impacts the global economy, peace and security, as well as hampering the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Poverty, fragility, unjust legal systems and harmful social norms and traditions are among the many factors that support its ongoing practice. Even in countries with laws intended to protect children from marrying before their 18th birthday, social and cultural norms supporting child marriage still exist and undermine any national laws.

Progress has been made over the last decade – an estimated 25 million child marriages were prevented – but there is still much more work to be done. Global projections of girls married by 2030 have shot up from 100 million to 110 million, based on the current estimates that an additional 10 million girls will now be married due to the COVID 19 outbreak. Last year alone (2020) saw the greatest surge in child marriage rates in 25 years.1 According to anecdotal data from our programmes, between March-December 2020, child marriages more-than doubled in many communities compared to 2019. The impacts of COVID-19 are severely hindering progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and targets related to eliminating child marriage and all forms of violence against children by 2030.2 The sustained wellbeing of children within families and communities is core to World Vision’s mission – with a strategic focus on reaching the most vulnerable. Our global campaign It takes a world to end violence against children has been implemented in 65 countries, with national campaigns focused on ending child marriage in 21 of those countries.i

This report compiles research and data from four unique contexts – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Senegal and Uganda – where World Vision has been working to address the issue of child marriage. In each of these countries, case studies were developed using first-hand accounts, a desk review of available data and evidence of promising practices towards eliminating child marriage. Wherever possible, we have also reflected the realities of project implementation in the context of COVID-19.ii From the collected stories, data and research, seven key themes emerged:

  1. Integrating specific actions to end child marriage from the outset of a humanitarian response is critical to sustaining global progress. Designing or adapting existing intervention models to reduce crisis-induced risks and ensure service provision continues will strengthen the impact of response and ensures continuity of existing efforts.

  2. Empowering women and girls as key decision-makers and agents of change achieves long-lasting results. Giving women and girls a voice in all aspects of project design and implementation is essential for the success of ending-child marriage programming.

  3. Engaging men and boys provides greater support structures for girls to say “no” to child marriage. Widespread global gender inequality means that men and boys hold greater social power and are often the ones who decide whether a child should be married. It is important to work with men and boys, alongside women and girls, to effectively end the practice of child marriage.

  4. Involving faith leaders is critical for long-term cultural and social norm change. Faith leaders are respected messengers in their communities who uniquely influence social norms. By engaging local community and faith leaders, programming to end child marriage can have a broader and lasting impact.

  5. Child marriage is driven by varied and complex factors that require multisectoral solutions, delivered through strong child protection systems. The seven evidence-based INSPIRE strategies provide a set of guidelines to holistically address factors leading to violence against children, including child marriage.3 When integrated and contextualised, these strategies effectively contribute towards reducing and ending child marriage.

  6. Education provides alternative pathways and increased opportunities for girls at risk of child marriage. Interventions to end child marriage should be coupled with the strengthening of education programmes and capacity-building of local schools.

  7. Community-led social accountability mechanisms are vital to ending child marriage. Providing avenues for advocacy is key to transformation and service delivery. National- and local-level advocacy are effective in a variety of contexts and can help state-society accountability and development coordination to end child marriage.