18+ Ending Child Marriage and Teen Pregnancy

18+ Ending Child Marriage and Teen Pregnancy in Eastern and Southern Africa
20 August 2019

Despite global declines in the rates of child marriage, an estimated 1 in 5 women worldwide are married as children. According to UNICEF data, child, early and forced child marriage (CEFM) is most common in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite a steady decline in some countries in the region, the rates are still very high in many countries.

The purpose of this report is to help inform more effective, contextualized interventions to address CEFM and teen pregnancy. The report documents case studies of programme innovations and successes carried out as part of Plan International’s 18+ Ending Child Marriage in Eastern and Southern Africa Programme (18+ RESA).

This report also includes the stories of young people, told in their own words and images, who have confronted CEFM and teen pregnancy and risen above their challenges to become advocates for change in their communities.

About this report

Ending CEFM and teen pregnancy requires work across all sectors and at all levels. It requires understanding the complex drivers behind the practices in different contexts in order to adapt interventions.  18+ RESA Programme takes a multi-level, holistic approach to identify and address the root causes or ‘drivers’ of CEFM, as well as relevant agents of change at all levels.

We hope that these stories and case studies will help other countries, partners and local organisations in the region to more effectively adapt and implement the 18+ Programme to ensure that it is responsive to the unique needs and experiences of young women, families, and communities in their own local contexts.

Building on the successes and lessons learned within the 18+ RESA Programme, and with the support of communities, governments and other NGOs; we have learned how young people can be empowered to take on the child marriage problem in their communities.

Key recommendations

Civil society organisations

  • Support youth-led social movements to scale up action against CEFM and teen pregnancy.
  • Create positive alternatives for young people instead of CEFM, otherwise changes such as getting girls out of early marriages will not last. Education needs to become the alternative that girls and boys want to pursue.
  • Expand the focus of programming to include urban areas, especially informal settlements, so as to move away from the current over-focus on rural areas.
  • Expand the focus of programming to include how we address child marriage and sexual exploitation in emergency contexts.  
  • Design, implement, monitor and evaluate gender-transformative programming that addresses the root causes of CEFM, including control of adolescent girls’ sexuality. There is a need to explore the drivers of this harmful practice in a way that has the potential to create lasting change
  • Ensure CEFM programming places girls at the centre – building their life skills, their political consciousness, and their agency to open up alternative life options beyond CEFM.  Additionally, support communities in recognising, analysing and deconstructing the social and gender norms that place women and girls at a disadvantage in all societies.  
  • Engage men and boys with methodologies that support them to recognise, question and act against unequal divisions of power in society.

Traditional authorities

  • Work with traditional and religious leaders to provide awareness about the crucial role they play in social norm change and advancing equality for girls and young women.

Government departments

  • Incentivise education and increase the quality of education so that girls have real alternatives to CEFM.
  • Set the legal age of marriage to 18 for both girls and boys, and enforce these laws to protect children.
  • Ensure the effective implementation of such legislation by engaging, sensitising and providing relevant training to judges, as well as to traditional, community and religious leaders on CEFM, teen pregnancy and child rights.
  • Provide young people with sexual and reproductive health services to reduce teen pregnancy.
  • Allocate budgets to support commitments to end CEFM and teen pregnancy, and follow through with the implementation of these commitments.
  • Develop coordinated multi-sectoral approaches that connect CEFM and teen pregnancy initiatives to broader development goals.
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Protection from violence, Sexual and reproductive health and rights, child marriage