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Addressing Data Gaps on Child, Early, and Forced Marriage in Humanitarian Settings

Save the Children
Date de publication

Dyan Mazurana, PhD and Anastasia Marshak


Over the last decade, there has been a significant push by the United Nations (U.N.) and its partner agencies to focus on the eradication of child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM). Biannual resolutions, since 2014, in both the U.N. General Assembly and the Human Rights Council (HRC) have contributed greatly to the normative framework on preventing and responding to CEFM. Political leadership at the regional and national level taking concrete action to address CEFM, including through the development of National Action Plans to end CEFM, have also led to significant progress and continued momentum.

The need for better data collection and disaggregation of that data for improved analysis and learning is crucial and has been emphasized consistently in multiple platforms and by multiple actors, including in the last two substantive resolutions on ending CEFM at the U.N. General Assembly and the HRC respectively. To that end, Save the Children commissioned this discussion paper with the goal of producing a comprehensive and user-friendly proposal for how to address current data gaps, with a specific focus on addressing the need for better and more comprehensive data on CEFM in humanitarian settings, which includes humanitarian emergencies, situations of forced displacement, armed conflict, and natural disaster. This discussion draft was developed after extensive interviews with key stakeholders on CEFM across program, policy, and academia in combination with a comprehensive literature review. The result is a report that identifies the existing knowledge and data on CEFM in humanitarian settings, reveals gaps in that evidence base, and provides recommendations for moving forward to address data gaps on CEFM in humanitarian settings.

While the practice of CEFM has declined over time from one in four (25 percent) to approximately one in five (21 percent), current trends suggest that an additional 150 million girls will be married by 2030. South Asia is home to the largest number of married girls, followed by sub-Saharan Africa, with countries such as Niger reporting more than 75 percent of all girls married before the age of 18. However, the problem of CEFM is global and not limited to these two regions.

Significantly, nine of the ten countries with the highest rates of CEFM are fragile or extremely fragile contexts, emphasizing the urgent need to better understand and address CEFM on the national, regional, and local level in humanitarian settings. For initiatives to be impactful, there needs to be continued effort and human and financial investment in producing, identifying, and sharing quality data on CEFM, including in humanitarian settings.

CEFM is a human rights violation and a form of gender-based violence (GBV) that robs children of their agency to make decisions about their lives, disrupts their education, makes them more vulnerable to violence and discrimination, and prevents their full participation in economic, political, and social spheres. It has been strongly associated with higher rates of maternal morbidity and mortality as well as harmful outcomes (morbidity, mortality, birth weight) for their offspring.

The literature and key informant interviews identified a variety of factors driving CEFM, including insecurity, protection, access to education, displacement, assets and wealth, food security, access to health services, freedom of movement, experience of shocks, etc., with gender inequality serving as a common root factor. Yet, the research further made clear that the practice is not the same across the world and neither are the “push and pull” factors, even within the same contexts where other factors play a role.

At present, there is particularly a significant lack of rigorous studies and systematic data collection on CEFM in humanitarian settings, resulting in gaps in evidence and knowledge. The existing research on CEFM in humanitarian settings has predominately been comprised of small, standalone qualitative studies. Most of the knowledge on CEFM in humanitarian settings is geographically limited, mainly coming out of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Most of the key informants the consultants interviewed were very aware of limitations in this knowledge.