Causes and Impact of Child Marriage
Socio-Cultural Norms,  Violence Against Women and Girls

Primary Causes and Impact of Child Marriage

Nujood Ali fled her husband’s home at the age of 10, after being beaten regularly by her in-laws and raped by her husband for two months. She showed immense courage by going to court and obtaining a divorce by breaking the social norms and tradition. Her story was later documented by a French journalist in I am Nujood: Age 10 and Divorced “. Nujood became a prominent figure in Yemen’s movement against early and child marriage. According to a UNICEF report, each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18.  Child marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights. Niger has the highest rate of Child marriage (76%), whereas India ranks first in the absolute number of child marriages 15,559,000. In this post, I discussed the primary causes and impact of child marriage, which is pervasive throughout the world, even in developed economies.



Primary Causes and Impact of Child Marriage:


Cause of child marriage

The causes of child marriage are complex and could be different in different cultures and societies. Though It is often related to the high poverty rate, cultural beliefs, and conflicts, the root causes of child marriage lie in gender discrimination and gender inequality. Some of the major causes of child marriage are –

Desire to control and dominate female lives

Child marriage is driven by the patriarchal societies’ desire to control and dominate women’s lives. When girls are married young, they hardly get proper education, and opportunities to be financially independent. They are also not aware of their rights and easily surrender to exploitation and injustice. The life of a child bride is completely controlled by their family and community.

Women’s role as caregivers and child-bearers

Traditionally, people in all cultures viewed women as merely a medium to reproduce, raise children and satisfy and serve men. Some communities continue to harbor this oppressive notion of women even today. Therefore, when a girl starts to menstruate, marriage is considered the first step to help retain her status as a wife and mother.

Read: The Burden of Unpaid Care on Women

Girls are considered burdens 

In rigid patriarchal societies, girls and boys don’t have the same status. Girls are often viewed as inferior and as burdens. In India and many other South Asian countries, parents raise their daughters with the purpose of sending them off to their husband’s homes. Parents do not want to spend money on the education or health of a girl child and often try to pass the burden to another family by marrying her off – the earlier the better.

Read: Girls’ Education: Challenges and Recommendations

The insecurity of protecting a girl from the lust of men

Having a young, unmarried daughter at home could bring a lot of insecurities to parents, especially in lower socio-economic classes. Parents feel that marriage would protect their daughters from sexual assault and harassment. Therefore, they choose to marry them young, often to ensure their safety in places where girls are at high risk of facing gender-based violence.

Acute poverty 

Where poverty is acute, the chances of dropping out of school are much higher for girls compared to boys. Marrying a daughter allows parents to reduce family expenses by ensuring that they have one less person to feed. In some cases, the marriage of a daughter is a way to repay debts or settle social or economic disputes. Sometimes girls themselves believe that marriage will be a solution to secure their future.

Link to other harmful traditional practices

Harmful social practices are often linked to each other. For example, in southern Ethiopia, child marriage usually follows the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting, which is considered a rite of passage to womanhood. Dowry is another cause of early marriage. A girl’s family often has to pay less money if the bride is young. Moreover, the burden of dowry is one of the reasons for parents not spending on their girl’s education. In all cultures, traditional practices are difficult to change as they are part of a community’s identity. Harmful social and religious practices act as catalysts for early and forced marriages.

Read: Understanding The Harmful Tradition of Breast Ironing

Impact of child marriage

“Premature pregnancy and motherhood are an inevitable consequence of child marriage. Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than women in their twenties.” -State of the World’s Children 2007, UNICEF


In June 2017, the World Bank published a Report on the Economic Impact of Child Marriage. The study looks at five domains of impacts of child marriage: (i) fertility and population growth; (ii) health, nutrition, and violence; (iii) educational attainment; (iv) labor force participation, earnings, and productivity; and (v) decision making and other areas.

According to this report, ending child marriage could reduce the total fertility rate by 11% across 15 countries, child marriage is directly associated with a loss in decision-making ability in girls in a third of countries. We have discussed below the primary social and economic impact of child marriage. 


Increased Poverty 

While Poverty is the main cause of child marriage, girls who are married early and do not have a secondary education are more likely to be trapped in poverty for the rest of their life. They will not be able to be economically independent or contribute to the family income. Girls who are married in childhood have very little access to economic opportunities. They also have less or no decision-making power in family planning. The cycle of poverty keeps repeating where child marriage is prevalent.

Read: Economic Abuse and the Importance of Financial Literacy For Women

Increased Violence

Parents often marry their girls young to protect them from violence. But sadly Child marriage is a form of violence and girls who marry young are highly vulnerable to physical, sexual, and psychological violence. child marriage is associated directly with higher risks of intimate partner violence for women. 

Read: Why Can’t Women Escape Abusive Relationships?

Education and Overall growth

Childhood marriage ends a girl’s access to formal education. This article describes child marriage as the primary obstacle in educating girls. Countries with a high rate of child marriage have a lower rate of quality and inclusive education for their population. Education is the main precursor of the social and economic development of any society. Depriving girls of education negatively impacts the development of society. 

Impact on the Economy of a Country

Societies, where women do not have access to education and are married early, have a lesser development rate and it negatively affects economic development. When girls have the skills and opportunities to secure a job, they can support themselves and their families and break the cycle of poverty. According to World Bank, ending child marriage could increase national earnings by 1.0%.

Read: Domestic Violence Against Women Across The World-Where Are We?

What Can we do to End Child Marriage?


The cause of child marriage could vary from one community to another. Regardless of the causes, the impact of child marriage is extremely regressive and detrimental to the progress of any society. Many experts identify child marriage as a form of child slavery. To eliminate child marriage, states must address the root causes relevant to the context of a particular country. This issue can not be solved in isolation and it is related to several other Sustainable Development Goals, like the elimination of poverty, hunger, and the enhancement of inclusive and quality education, gender equality, and economic security.

While educating the girls and eliminating poverty are considered to be the two most important steps to prevent child marriage, religion, culture, and social customs also play important roles in the early or childhood marriage of girls. The complete elimination of this harmful practice requires the involvement of the government, community, and religious leaders, and the implementation of strict policies and laws. Surprisingly, many countries, including some states of the United States don’t yet have a minimum legal age for marriage, directing child marriage to perpetuate.

Read our Handbook for Women’s Rights Advocacy.



  • Steve Good

    This is important –and strong — stuff. Thank you for posting. I found myself wanting to know more under each of your headings. Will more posts and information on this subject be forthcoming?

  • Swagata Sen

    Thanks Steve. Yes, I have plans to write separate posts on few of the subjects from the sub topics. Few topics were already covered in others posts on dowry and FGM . After reading your comments I realized I did not explicitly mention that anywhere in this post. Just now added few lines and the links ! Thanks so much for helping me realize that.

  • Shirley

    I truly must have my head in the sand because I didn’t realize this was an issue. Clearly I need to read more of your articles so I can better understand. Thank you.

    • Swagata Sen

      Yes, in most of the cases they are married to men twice/ thrice of their age or at least with some one much older than them. In countries, where polygamy (of men) is legally allowed, sometimes young girls are married with men with multiple wives and children.

  • sjd68

    Each time I read your posts I can’t imagine how different countries are as to what is accepted and what is not both culturally and economically. I couldn’t imagine marrying off my daughter so I didn’t have to feed her anymore or thinking so much less of a woman. It is terrifying to know this is still going on.

    • Swagata Sen

      I can totally understand that it is very difficult to even imagine some of the social practices of different cultures. My hope is that people will stop abusing and oppressing women and girls all over the world in the name of culture, tradition and religion

  • Johnny Quid

    Thank you for this post. We need to shed light on this issue. I have never felt comfortable about the whole arranged marriage thing. Just seems like you’re stripping your child of the choice to fall in love so that you can save a buck or inherit wealth, as your previous post about the dowry killings pointed out. It’s not fair them them, and if it’s just going to make it impossible for the girls to become independent and educated, then bottom line, it’s abuse. I think the US needs to get ACTIVELY INVOLVED to end this terrible “tradition”.

    • Swagata Sen

      Yes, I totally agree with you. Child marriage is nothing but a violation of fundamental human rights. Thank you so much for sharing such thoughtful comments. I really appreciate it.

  • Lindsay Rae

    Oh this is such an important and devestating topic. It is so horrific that these practices still happen. I think about my daughter who is eight and cannot imagine sending her into this kind of a lifestyle.

    My heart hearts for the women and girls put into these young marriages and unsafe relationships.

    I give you so much credit for spreading awareness and knowledge with each article you write.

    • Swagata Sen

      Thank you so much for such thoughtful comments! Really appreciate and it means a lot to me. I totally agree with you. Child marriage is one of the worst form of human right abuses. It is the beginning of a life long suffering for a woman.

  • Mary

    I think a lot of people forget that used to be the norm here and in Europe. While it’s horrifying to think of, we are not so far removed from this practice, and it is actually still legal in many states though not commonly practiced. We need to keep talking about it.

  • Andrea (2oddravens)

    This is horrific, and it is unbelievable that it is still so prevalent. R. Kelly married a 15 year old and is still a free man. Courtney Stodden was only 16 years old when 51 year old Doug Hutchison married her. These cases are right in the U.S. and highly publicized.

    • Swagata Sen

      Thank you do much for Andrea for highlighting these cases. It actually helps to put some light on this issue and puts things in perspective. Child marriage is an issue in all the societies, as opposed to some common beliefs that it is restricted only in particular religions or only in developing countries.

  • Melody

    It’s horrible to know that this is still happening on so many places. We tend to isolate ourselves in our knowledge of issues like these. I’m glad there are people like your self who are reminding us that this still goes on. Without enlightenment, things cannot change.

    • Swagata Sen

      Thank you so much for your comments, Melody. It really means a lot to me. I agree with you that unless an issue directly affects us, we tend not to think much about it. I grew up in a country with a larger gender gap and very widespread gender discrimination. I wanted to raise my voice against gender inequality since I was a child. I hope we can create this world a better place a for women and girls.

    • Swagata Sen

      I agree there have been some improvement, but a lot still needs to be done. It is always difficult to tackle issues when people blend them with religious and tradition. Child marriage is also not an exception.

  • Elease Colcord

    I always appreciate your ‘what you can do.’ While I can’t say I ‘enjoy’ reading about the challenges that are still being faced today, I know we can’t hide our heads in the sand.

    • Swagata Sen

      I always believe that, We all can do at least something to many harmful social issues. If nothing else, we can at least raise our voice, speak up for the oppressed, and be an advocate of them. Thank you so much for your comments.

    • Swagata Sen

      Thanks so much for wanting to share and spread more awareness about this issue. Child marriage is a global issue and is prevalent in many countries and we all must act together to eradicate it. Thanks again.

  • Luna S

    It is heart breaking to know this still goes on in this day and age, thank you for bringing this to everyone’s attention as this subject should be shared more to help put a stop to it!

    • Swagata Sen

      Thank you for your comments Luna! I hope this helps to create awareness against child marriage. We all must take some tangible actions to eliminate gender discrimination from the society.

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