Throughout this knowledge module, reference to certain provisions or sections of a piece of legislation, part of a legal judgment, or aspect of a practice does not imply that the legislation, judgment, or practice is considered in its entirety to be a good example or a promising practice.

Some of the laws cited herein may contain provisions which authorize the death penalty. In light of the United Nations General Assembly resolutions 62/14963/16865/206, and 67/176 calling for a moratorium on and ultimate abolition of capital punishment, the death penalty should not be included in sentencing provisions for crimes of violence against women and girls.

Other Provisions Related to Domestic Violence LawsResources for Developing Legislation on Domestic Violence
Sexual Harassment in Sport Tools for Drafting Sexual Harassment Laws and Policies
Immigration Provisions Resources for developing legislation on sex trafficking of women and girls
Child Protection Provisions Resources on Forced and Child Marriage
Other provisions related to dowry-related and domestic violence laws
Related Tools

Prevention of forced and child marriages

Last edited: January 28, 2011

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Access to education

  • Ensuring that girls have access to quality education at the primary and secondary level is one of the most important factors in prevention of forced and early marriages. Research shows that the prevalence rate of child or forced marriage is highest among girls with little or no formal education, and among households with the lowest income levels. (See: Protecting Children from Harmful Practices in Plural Legal Systems, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary on Violence against Children, 2012). Enacting and enforcing laws that provide for free and compulsory education is an important step in prevention of child marriages. Drafters should consider the multiple barriers that girls face in accessing education including fees, geographic barriers, sexual harassment of girls at school (see the Sexual Harassment in Education section), lack of access to safe and sanitary toilet facilities, lack of access to female hygiene products, overcrowding and lack of trained teachers, as well as corporal punishment in schools.


Promising Practices:

India’s Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (2009) focuses on the provision of free and compulsory education for children ages 6 to 14 years. The law requires ‘’the appropriate government to provide free elementary education in a neighbourhood school and ensure compulsory admission, attendance and completion of elementary education to every child in the six to fourteen age group.’’ The law provides for hiring ‘’appropriately trained’’ teachers and prohibits teacher’s use of physical punishment or mental harassment. This Act requires local authorities to monitor admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by every child residing in their jurisdiction. Local governments, panchayats, are required to keep records of admission, continuation, and completion of elementary education of all children over six years old in their area, in addition to monitoring to assure quality education. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights  is charged with monitoring the effective implementation of the law. Regional governments are directed to appoint commissions as focal points to address grievances related to the implementation of the law. Watch a video about the landmark law.

See: Delaying Marriage for Girls in India: A Formative Research to Design Interventions for Changing Norms, ICRW, 2011.

South Sudan’s Child Act (2008) provides for free and compulsory primary education in the new nation. The Child Act also specifies that no girl can be expelled from school due to pregnancy and young mothers must be allowed to continue their education. As a result of the civil war, education was interrupted for thousands of youth in South Sudan. The country has initiated an alternative education system that allows pregnant girls and mothers to attend school – almost 70,000 women and girls participated in this program in 2011. The government is developing several policy actions to increase girls’ access to education including Girls Education Strategy from the Ministry of Education, a policy to encourage more women to become primary school teachers, and the development of a Life Skills curriculum to enhance the chances that girls will understand their rights and stay in school. See: “This Old Man Can Feed Us, You Will Marry Him”, Human Rights Watch, 2013, pp. 41-42.

Guidelines on Prevention

  • Drafters should consider following the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly’s suggestions on prevention of forced marriages. Laws should provide for: awareness-raising and training for women, girls and their families on human rights; information in multiple languages about the laws and best practices, as well as highlighting consequences for perpetrators and protection measures for women and girls; information to women and girls about protection measures available to them; and support for NGOs, particularly those that work with immigrant communities. See: Resolution 1662, Para. 7.5.
  • Drafters should also look to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights aspects of trafficking in persons, especially women and children for guidance on preventative measures. States should implement laws and various measures that target the demand for forced marriages; monitor and establish protection measures in the marriage market trade; ensure that background and criminal history checks are a necessary condition for men who apply for foreign spouse visas; ensure that girls have equal access to education; review and develop civil remedies for victims, including simpler annulment procedures, civil tort remedies and extended statutes of limitation in forced marriages; support organizations assisting victims of violence against women and create more facilities to assist these victims; consider criminalizing the specific offence of forced marriage; prosecute other related crimes, such as rape, sexual abuse and violence, and; prohibit children under the age of 18 years from marrying and other harmful practices, such as polygamy and marriage by proxy. (See: Special Rapporteur on the human rights aspects of trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Implementation of General Assembly Resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006 entitled “Human Rights Council,” 2007)
  • Drafters in donor countries should consider legislation that provides foreign assistance and capacity-building to prevent forced and child marriages. Legislation pending in the US Congress would require that the United States develop a comprehensive strategy to end child and forced marriages, both in the US and around the world. The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act would strengthen and make more effective U.S. efforts to prevent child marriage, through provision of victim services and other strategies. Specifically, the law would allow the government to “provide assistance, including through multilateral, nongovernmental, and faith-based organizations, to prevent the incidence of child marriage in developing countries through the promotion of educational, health, economic, social, and legal empowerment of girls and women” and would “establish a multi-year strategy to prevent child marriage and promote the empowerment of girls at risk of child marriage in developing countries, which should address the unique needs, vulnerabilities, and potential of girls under age 18 in developing countries.” The law also would require that the government confer with civil society representatives in implementation of the law. Although the Senate already passed the legislation, the House still needs to act on the law.  A domestic advocacy campaign within the US is underway to encourage legislators to pass the law. 


Promising Practices – Programs lead to drop in child marriage rates:

India:  The Apni Beti Apni Dhan (Our Daughters, Our Wealth) is an innovative incentive program that gives money to poor families when a daughter is born and deposits money into a savings account. If the girl remains unwed at the age of 18, she can redeem the bond, with bonuses for completing certain levels of schooling. Likely due in part to Apni Beti, child marriage has dropped 18% between 1992 and 2006 in the region where the program is underway. For many girls, the program allows them to stay in school longer. The program also more generally aims to improve the perceived value of women in a country with a high incidence of sex-selective abortion and a pattern of female disadvantages in health and education. Programs like Apni Beti and other government supported schemes are trying to upend the current system and recognize that economics can play a major role both in shaping and changing the culture.

The Maharashtra Life Skills Program, also a regional program in India, brought at risk, 11-17 year old girls together four hour-long classes each day for a year to build their capacity on nutrition, child health, and literacy. Results of an evaluation showed that girls who participated in the program were substantially less likely to marry early, than girls who did not participate in the program. In program areas girls marrying under the age of 18 dropped from 80% to 61.8%, whereas there was no change in the control villages. See:IHMP, Increasing Age at Marriage in Rural Maharashtra, India; ICRW, Improving the Reproductive Health of Married and Unmarried Youth in India.

Ethiopia: The Berhane Hewan (“Light for Eve” in Amharic) in Ethiopia works to prevent child marriage by working with unmarried girls and those in child marriage. Although funded by UN and other bodies, the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Amhara Region Youth and Sports Bureau is the implementing machinery. Developed in consultation with the local community, the program targeted married and unmarried girls ages 10 to 19 in rural Ethiopia, providing them with mentoring from adult women in the community, economic incentives to remain in school, and improved access to reproductive health information and services. The project also reached out to families by facilitating monthly dialogues and teaching them skills, such as how to build better stoves—which, in turn, reduces the workload burden on married girls. An evaluation of the program compared villages receiving the program interventions from 2004 to 2006 to a control group of villages that did not received the intervention. In general, evaluators found increases in girls’ social networks, age at marriage, and reproductive health knowledge. The proportion of girls participating in Berhane Hewan who had ever married decreased from 10 percent to 2 percent. For girls ages 10 to 14 in the control group, the proportion who got married in the previous year increased from 2 percent to 5 percent, while none of the 10-to-14-year-olds in the program had married in the previous year. However, the evaluation also found that while young adolescents (10-14) in the program delayed marriage, older adolescents (15-19) were more likely to marry. These results suggest that the intervention was successful in delaying marriage age by a few years, but not delaying marriage all the way to age 18.   

See: Population Reference Bureau, Who Speaks for Me? Ending Child Marriage, 2011, p. 4; Susan Lee-Rife, et al., What Works to Prevent Child Marriage: A Review of the Evidence, 43 Studies in Family Planning 2012, 287-303; Rachel Vogelstein, Ending Child Marriage (Council on Foreign Relations, 2013) pp. 14-15.