What Is the History of Child Marriage?

Child marriages have been common throughout history. For much of history, especially before the industrial revolution, girls were wed right after puberty. Men, however, were wed at an older age since they were expected to be able to support a family. When they had accumulated enough financial resources, they often married an adolescent girl. In ancient times and medieval societies, children were married even before puberty.

When studying the history of child marriage, it is essential to remember that life expectancy was much shorter in the past, so child marriages provided valuable years for reproduction. In the 20th century, women began receiving a more consistent education and entering the workforce. Life expectancy improved and the culture around child marriage began to fade. Over time, public acceptance of the practice began to be questioned.

In 1948, the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This outlawed the forced marriage of children.

In 2012, the first International Day of the Girl Child was held. Its focus was preventing child marriage. Shortly after that event, the UN Human Rights Council declared child marriage a barrier to child development. Each of these efforts brought light to a dark and sometimes hidden practice.

In 2015, Common African Position on Ending Child Marriage in Africa called for comprehensive action to establish a minimum age for marriage of 18.

By 2018, statistics were beginning to improve, with only one in five girls marrying as child brides. Two US states became the first to fully outlaw child marriage—Delaware and New Jersey.

While public acceptance of child marriage declined in many cultures, it is still practiced. Today, the highest instances of child marriage happen in the following countries: Niger, Central African Republic, Chad, Bangladesh, Mali, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Guinea and Somalia.1 While these countries have the highest incidence of child marriage due to smaller population size, the largest numbers of child brides reside in South Asia.2

What can be done? GFA World is working in parts of Asia and Africa to break the acceptance of child marriage. The programs available to children, their families and communities provide essentials such as nutritious food, access to clean water, medical check-ups, tutoring, school supplies and more. These resources help relieve the financial burden from impoverished families so that child marriage is no longer an attractive solution to their financial woes.

Learn more about child marriage

1 https://atlas.girlsnotbrides.org/map/?_ga=2.202400786.2088365952.1640889058-930366308.1640889058
2 https://www.icrw.org/child-marriage-facts-and-figures/