Child Marriage and FGM

Child marriage and FGM are often linked

Key Findings

Gender inequality and social expectations are key drivers of child marriage and FGM.  Both are forms of patriarchal control over girls’ sexuality and are often linked to cultural and religious social norms within communities.

School dropout

Girls who are subjected to child marriage and FGM are more likely to drop out of school. They are also more likely to experience health problems and complications during pregnancy

Religious identity

Neither FGM nor child marriage is endorsed by religion yet  in many communities they are seen as part of their religious identity

Child brides

FGM does not happen to all child brides and not all girls who undergo FGM  become child brides

Increased risk

Both child marriage and FGM are a violation of girls’ rights and increase the risk of gender-based violence

Ending FGM and Child marriage

“Child marriage is a legal marriage or informal union where one or both parties are children under the age of 18. While child marriage is far more likely to happen to girls, in some countries, it’s not uncommon for boys to also marry before the age of 18. More often than not, a younger girl is married to an older man” (World Vision)

FGM/C and child marriage are both harmful practices that severely affect a girl’s health, development, education and quality of life.  Both are driven by gender inequality and social beliefs.  The global prevalence of child marriage is greater than that of FGM/C, with UNICEF figures showing that approximately 700 million women alive today were married as children, compared to an estimated 200 million women who have undergone FGM/C.

40% of the world’s child brides are from South Asia, where the population is high and child marriage is a long-established tradition.  However, the highest rate of child marriage is in Niger, where 76% of girls are married before the age of 18.

FGM/C and child marriage are not always connected – for example, in some communities, girls undergo FGM/C before the age of 5 (for example, in Nigeria, where 82% of women aged 15-49 who have undergone FGM were cut before the age of 5). However, in communities where FGM/C is seen as a rite of passage into adulthood (for example, in Kenya, where 42.6% of women aged 15-49 in were cut between the ages of 10 and 14), it often leads to early marriage.  Although neither FGM/C nor child marriage are religious requirements, in many communities they are seen as part of the religious identity, and therefore it is essential that religious leaders take action to change these beliefs and are involved in the work to end both FGM/C and child marriage.

Ending FGM/C and child marriage is covered by numerous UN conventions, including the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  In addition, Sustainable Development Goal 5.3 calls for the ‘elimination of all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation’

Several organisations that work to end FGM/C also work to end child marriage.  Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of over 1000 civil society organisations who are committed to ending child marriage.

Research and Resources