Each year, some 10 million girls are compelled to marry before they reach age 18—the age the world has agreed upon as the beginning of adulthood under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The precise reasons for child marriage differ from one society to the next, but all too often the devastating effects on girls’ health, education, earning power and independence are the same.
Produced with support from the foundation’s Youth Sexuality, Reproductive Health and Rights initiative, this report by Margaret E. Greene aims to provoke discussion in the field and clarify what we need to know to bring an end to this deeply harmful practice. By mapping current knowledge of child marriage and the programs designed to address it, and highlighting questions that remain unanswered, it helps move us closer to meaningful change.
Here, Greene discusses the context of her report and the important role of research in this field.
Tell us about the goal of this report.
There’s been a lot of research conducted in the past five years, so one goal is to map out what’s been happening in the child marriage field so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I wanted to create a sense of what’s been accomplished so that people have a shared understanding of different perspectives and the research evidence at hand.
The root causes of child marriage are so broad, it’s easy to get daunted. When we analyze all the elements that contribute to the practice, organizations are able to see how their own efforts can play a role in ending it, and how those contributions fit into a larger movement.
What’s the relationship between this research and work happening on the ground?
Here’s one example: We’re seeing a growing consensus around the importance of creating pathways for girls, to help them map out clear alternatives to early marriage. So we need to understand how to bring together organizations working on issues including livelihoods, education and norm change in communities—all of the different elements that make it possible for girls and their families to choose not to marry before age 18.
The report looks at all the knowledge out there and identifies priority questions that point to what we need to learn more about in order to work most effectively. These are gaps in the research on child marriage where additional investment might catalyze change.
What interventions seem to be most effective in terms of ending child marriage?
Girls often don’t have the opportunity to contemplate, much less plan, their futures. Organizations that have worked with girls to help them think through what they want to do with their lives, and where marriage fits into that—that offer them skills and training, and work with the broader community to realize change—tend to have a deeper impact than programs that focus on just one element of what is a very complex problem.