Five girls smile at one another.

Child Marriage Roundtable - Key Takeaways

Hosted by

World Vision Canada


Early December 2023


Global Aff airs Canada, Girls Not Brides, the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Program to End Child Marriage and Save the Children Canada

Child, early and forced marriage/unions (CEFMU) is one of the most significant expressions of gender inequality and a practice which compromises the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of women and girls around the world, making them more vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and creating a cycle of intergenerational trauma. In early December 2023, World Vision Canada hosted a roundtable discussion on CEFMU in partnership with Global Affairs Canada, Girls Not Brides, the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Program to End Child Marriage, Save the Children Canada and World Vision International.

Here’s what we learned:

1) A socio-ecological approach is critical to address the multiple intersecting drivers of CEFMU.

While these drivers differ in each context, interventions are more effective when they address barriers and enablers at all levels: individual, family, community, societal and institutional. The socio-ecological approach recognizes that the ability of girls to make strategic choices about their lives is influenced by the context in which they live and the multiple systems they interact with, including social, cultural, economic, political, religious, legal, community, and family systems. These systems are interlinked and interdependent and must be addressed simultaneously to generate sustainable and meaningful change.

2) Importance of keeping girls in school.

The evidence is clear: on average, the likelihood of a girl marrying before she turns 18 is six percentage points less for every additional year she stays in secondary school.[i] Schooling may be protective for several reasons. Primary education lays the foundation for a lifetime of learning and, in some areas, is protective against child marriage, while secondary education provides children with the knowledge and skills they need to become empowered adults and is significant in reducing CEFMU. Those countries/regions that have seen the greatest reductions in child marriage are also those that have seen the greatest success in educating girls.

3) Importance of comprehensive sexuality education.

There is strong evidence to support ensuring adolescents, both in and out of school, have access to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) at school as a crucial tool to end CEFMU as well as to prevent adolescent pregnancy, reduce unsafe abortions, increase the use of condoms and other contraceptives, reduce HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and prevent[ii] CSE also gives girls the tools to push back against CEFMU in their families and helps both girls and boys identify abuse and coercion, set boundaries, develop respectful relations, consider the well-being of others affected by their choices, and understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.

4) Importance of working with married adolescents.

Girls who are already married may be actively experiencing violence and lack access to services. Creating safe spaces where married girls learn about gender equality and human rights and acquire decision-making and negotiation skills can be life-changing. However, the reality is that once informed of their rights, some girls choose to leave their marriage. As such, programs need to have strong mechanisms and partnerships in place to both support girls who make this choice and facilitate acceptance by their families and communities of their life choices after they leave their marriage.

5) Importance of addressing macro-level issues.

Despite progress toward ending CEFMU over the past decade, change has been uneven and unequal across socioeconomic groups, especially amongst the poorest and most marginalized girls. Crisis, conflict, insecurity and high levels of inequality and poverty all serve to increase rights violations, including CEFMU, SGBV, push-back against reproductive rights and the right to education. Additionally, improving access to formal employment and fair compensation raises the cost of dropping out of school. It allows young women to build an economic base, lifting girls and future generations out of poverty.

6) Power of collaboration.

Collaboration is central to fighting and mitigating CEFMU. We cannot do this alone; we must leverage our multi-stakeholder associations, particularly women’s rights associations and organizations, to ensure they are integrated and that we have a common focus. We also need to leverage one another’s experiences and strengths at different levels – local, regional, national, and global, ensuring that we work together and have a common view of what needs to be done to make a difference. We need to leverage the experience of boys and young men, who are also deeply affected by CEFMU, to be key drivers of this discussion and its solution. Finally, we need to leverage the power and influence of community leadership: traditional and faith leaders are gatekeepers, and we know that if we work with them, they can move things forward.

[i] Quentin Wodon and others, “Missed Opportunities: The High Cost of Not Educating Girls,” The World Bank Group, July 2021.
[ii] CRANK, “Evidence review: Child marriage interventions and research from 2020 to 2022,” January 2023.

Six logos of participating stakeholders and contact information
Unless otherwise stated, data presented on this page reflects the most up-to-date results of World Vision Canada programs reported between October 2022 and September 2023, and any previous fiscal years available. Previously reported data may not match the current presentation as we continuously receive and refine data from our programs. If you have any questions, kindly reach out to us.