A girl's right to say no to marriage: Working to end child marriage and keep girls in school

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Crises, fragility and emergencies

There is emerging evidence that instability and insecurity, such as conflict or disasters caused by natural hazards, can increase the risk of marriage for young girls. Families may resort to marriage as a coping mechanism in order to support the survival or protection of girls themselves or their family.
Plan research in Ethiopia and Bangladesh found that because climate risks such as droughts, flooding and food crises can exacerbate poverty levels, they also increase the risk of child marriage. In 2010, Plan International staff also reported increases in child marriage among the communities they were working with after the earthquake in Haiti and the floods in Pakistan.

As a report from World Vision highlights, most of the 25 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are considered fragile states or at high risk of disasters. The report identifies the fear of defying tradition, of malnutrition and hunger and of sexual violence as key factors that can contribute to increases of child marriage during a crisis or as a result of fragility.

Increased food insecurity and household poverty, resulting from the shocks of conflict, disasters caused by natural hazards and slow-onset emergencies, has been linked to a rise in the rates of child marriage in some contexts.

This is often as a result of parents seeing no other option but to marry their daughters to reduce the number of mouths to feed. The dowry that comes from a marriage also increases a family’s assets and enables them to buy food for the rest of the family. It can also be seen as one of the best ways to protect the girl from similar shocks in the future.

Adolescent girls face heightened risk of sexual violence during emergencies, and particularly in times of conflict. Parents can see marriage as protection for the girl herself and for the honour of the family. A 2013 report from the International Rescue Committee Commission on Syrian refugees highlights increasing reports of child marriages taking place in refugee camps as parents try to protect their daughters from the risk of being raped and to ‘safeguard their honour’ if they are sexually assaulted. The report also finds that the poverty faced by those living in the camps is driving parents to enter their children into marriage in order to pay rent or reduce household numbers.

Despite this growing evidence, child protection issues continue to be underprioritised and under-funded in emergencies and disasters, and governments, donors and civil society have been slow to prioritise research and data collection on the ways emergencies and disasters increase the vulnerability of children – especially girls – to child marriage, and to respond accordingly.