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Time to Act! Accelerating Efforts to End Child, Early and Forced Marriage in Asia

Overview

Child, early and forced marriage scourges the lives of millions of girls globally and across Asia, gravely affecting and undermining their integral wellbeing and health, while exposing them to severe violence and stripping them of their basic rights. By disproportionately depriving girls of their opportunities for education, economic independence, and social and civic participation, this harmful practice slows down the overall progress of societies resulting in an ever-increasing human and economic toll to be paid.

Plan International firmly commits to preventing and eliminating child,  early and forced marriage through holistic interventions and in partnership with a range of actors and stakeholders. Building on the comprehensive body of research into the root causes and detrimental consequences,  we have further invested in identifying and exploring the effective interventions and strategies that have proven to be significantly reducing  this widespread practice. 

We have now gained increased evidence that only through combined integrative action addressing all root causes simultaneously – challenging social norms, strengthening legislation and its consistent enforcement, and providing economic and social resources and safety nets – will we be closer to achieving the global ambition to ending child, early and forced marriage by 2030. Tackling the gender inequality and discrimination that trigger this exploitative practice remains an imperative to inform and guide all  relevant strategies.

Particular attention has been given to youth involvement and activism,  which brings in innovation and breaks the vicious spiral of social exclusion, gender stereotypes and harmful traditions. Youth-led actions will further inspire and refresh collective efforts to eliminate this social blight. 

Better equipped with this knowledge and renewed evidence, we are determined to contribute to accelerated action, urging for immediate response and increased investments. The time to end child, early and  forced marriage, once and for all, is now!

Executive Summary

CHILD, EARLY AND FORCED MARRIAGE IN THE LIVES OF ASIAN GIRLS

South and Southeast Asia have significant levels of child, early and forced marriage (CEFM). The South Asia  sub-region has some of the highest rates of CEFM, with Bangladesh and Nepal numbering among the top 20 in  the world; and India has several times over the number of child brides of the next closest country. Arranged marriages remain common, but “circumstantial marriages” are increasingly taking place, often in response to unintended pregnancy (whether a result of sex within a consensual relationship or from sexual coercion or  assault). 

In the Asia region, 43% of adolescent pregnancies are unintended (some occurring within  marriage), and in the Asia-Pacific sub-region, 63% are unintended among girls aged 15-19.

PLAN INTERNATIONAL ASIA REGIONAL OFFICE RESEARCH ON CEFM

CEFM is a key dimension of Plan International’s work to advance equality for girls. The Plan International Asia Regional Office commissioned a three-phase research series:

Phase I of this research series covered the prevalence of CEFM, root causes, impact, and interventions designed to delay or mitigate child marriage throughout the Asia region. The report reviewed data from the 14 countries (Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam) where the Plan International Asia Regional Office has an operational presence.

Phase II (this report), produced with the support of UNFPA EAPRO, delves into whether these interventions were successful and effective in preventing, reducing and eliminating CEFM, and highlights the factors that might lead to success. This phase also identifies interventions and innovative approaches that seem most likely to eliminate CEFM if implemented at scale by governments and other relevant stakeholders in Asia and beyond.

Phase III of this research series will focus on a costing analysis, asking what it would cost for governments to implement the successful interventions that were identified in Phase II, and will identify which costed models make the most sense in specific settings.

Phase II

In this report for Phase II, extensive document review, interviews with regional experts and collaboration with consultants in five focus countries (Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Vietnam) identified interventions and key success factors, challenges, opportunities and themes. India, Bangladesh and Indonesia are among the top 10 countries with the highest numbers of girls married before age 18.

In South Asia, where CEFM tends to be more consistent across the general population, India and Bangladesh have the highest rates of the selected study countries along with the greatest number of programmes addressing CEFM. There are comparatively fewer programmes active in Cambodia and Indonesia, though government and civil society are nonetheless engaging in some work to end CEFM.

Bangladesh and Indonesia provide interesting counterpoints to each other as majority Muslim countries where CEFM is manifested and responded to in different ways. In Vietnam, the government has begun to work on CEFM among ethnic minorities, and may be starting to think about early marriage in the population as a whole.

Recommendations

A range of innovative and promising practices emerged from this research, in addition to those described in the evaluation literature. The following recommendations emerge from programmes that may have been evaluated for results other than CEFM reduction, may have been implemented on a smaller scale, or may not have had enough time to demonstrate strong results. They have emerged as programme strategies worth consideration (the first five recommendations reflect the evidence on what has worked in the Asia region and globally to end CEFM):
 

  1. Contextualise and localise programme strategies and content
  2. Integrate CEFM across government and development sectors
  3. Apply a gender-transformative lens to programme strategies and content
  4. Empower girls through collectives 
  5. Ensure that governments buy-in through building their capacity and ownership
  6. Address adolescent sexuality and unintended pregnancy  
  7. Engage traditional and faith leaders
  8. Ensure meaningful participation of adolescents and youth
  9. Invest in long-term programmes, evaluations and research to generate additional evidence

Download the full report for our recommendations in full. 

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