top of page

Child Early and Forced Marriage: A Norm Endangering Girls and Women.

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

Article by: Christine Ghati Alfons


I am the founder of Safe Engage Foundation, an organisation working with youths as the change agents to stir up dialogues in the community with an aim of achieving a community free from violence against women and children.


I am a Kenyan activist working towards the abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting and Child marriages in my community and beyond.


I am also a co-facilitator with Orchid Project, specialising in UNICEF’s six elements for abandonment of FGM/C.


From 2019-2020 I served in the Executive committee of CYGEN as the Child Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM) lead and I am a Queen’s Young Leader (2015).


Contact Details

Twitter: @Ghatichristine

Facebook: Christine Alfons

Instagram: @alfonschristine


This article gives overview of child and forced marriages, factors contributing to and effects of Child marriages, and strategies that have been employed across the Commonwealth member states to curb the practice. It also highlights two stories of women who are survivors of child, early, and forced marriages.



Marriage is often regarded as a moment of celebration; a milestone in an adult’s life. Unfortunately, the practice of child, early and forced marriage gives no such cause for celebration. All too often, forcing a married partner upon a child means that their childhood is cut short – and their fundamental rights are compromised.



What are the differences between Child, Early and Forced marriage?


Child marriage is any formal marriage or informal union where one or both parties are under 18 years of age. (https://www.unicef.org/protection/child-marriage)


Early marriage is where one or both parties have attained the consenting age and are married, but may not have been ready and were pressured into marriage by circumstance. Some experts see a very slim difference between child marriage and early marriage.


Forced Marriage is where one or both people do not or cannot consent to the marriage, and pressure or abuse is used to force them into marriage. A marriage can also become a forced marriage even if both parties enter with full consent, if one or both are later forced to stay in the marriage against their will. (https://cpdonline.co.uk/knowledge-base/safeguarding/what-is-a-forced-marriage/)


All these are harmful practices that violate the rights of women and girls.


Statistics across the globe and in the Commonwealth.


Globally, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18 each year. This equates to 23 girls every minute. (https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/about-child-marriage/)


In the Commonwealth, about 8.8 million girls are married before the age of 18. Every year, this means that about 17 girls get married every minute. (https://thecommonwealth.org/media/news/working-together-end-child-marriage)


This paper calls for urgent action to help accelerate abandonment of the practice.

If action is not taken urgently, more than 15 million girls will be married before the age of 18 by 2030.



These practices are fuelled by the following factors:

(https://www.africaparent.com/child-marriages-2)


1. Gender inequality: Girls are very vulnerable to Child Marriage compared to boys as they are less valued in many communities across the Commonwealth.

2. Poverty: The longer girls stay in school the more they stay away from child marriages. Whenever girls lack school fees and stay at home, they become more vulnerable to child marriages. In addition, their parents can create wealth by marrying them off in exchange for a dowry.

3. Social norms: This is about values and how people express them in everyday life. Many communities across the Commonwealth do not see child marriage as something that needs to be challenged and changed. It is another social norm, like Female Genital Mutilation, which is also highly valued across in many cultures and can be part of preparing girls for marriage.


Child Early and Forced Marriage has devastating consequences all over the world, ranging from health to financial/ economic to literacy levels to psychological. It violates some of the rights of women and girls.



Some of the rights violated by child, early and forced marriage are:


Right to health: Child marriage exposes a girl to very high-risk pregnancy as her body is not yet ready for gestation and childbirth, which may cause fistula or even death during birth.

Right to education: Girls married as children effectively lose their childhood. They are forced to drop out of school to get married and look after their families.

Freedom of choice (choice of their partners and when to marry): Girls are not given the opportunity to reach the age of consent to choose their own partner.

Right to be protected from harmful practices: Girls subjected to child marriage are not protected from the harm that it comes with it.



Emerging aspects in Child Marriage


Eloping marriage is where two minors – a boy or a girl – decide to marry. In this case their parents are held liable by the law. Another incidence of elopement is when a girl who is a minor decides to get married to a man who is of consenting age. This mostly happens with girls who are victims of teen pregnancies, or the social norms within their local communities make them believe that it is okay to get married before the consenting age.



Strategies that have been employed to end child marriages across the Commonwealth

(https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/about-child-marriage/)