Core Elements in Child Protection Laws and Systems to Protect against Forced and Child Marriage
last updated October 2014

In partnership with UN Women, The Advocates for Human Rights created the following sections for UN Women's Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence against Women and Girls. This section, along with sections addressing other forms of violence against women and girls, may be found under Legislation at

The following elements should be established as the core elements in child protection laws and systems to protect against forced and child marriage.  Elements are discussed in detail further below.

   Legislation should provide for an emergency order for protection remedy for a female in need of protection from undergoing forced and child marriage. 

  Legislation should authorize the removal of the child from the home if the court determines that a responsible adult has a reasonable fear that a parent or parents or guardian are considering authorizing the performance of forced and child marriage. 

   Legislation should authorize the placement of a child in danger of forced and child marriage in a shelter, refuge or foster home.  

  Legislation should authorize the continuing placement of a child in a shelter or foster home until the child can be reconciled with the family, or, if the parent or parents will not give up their intention to force a minor child into forced and child marriage, authorization for the child to continue in shelter or foster care and attend school locally, or attend a boarding school to continue her education.

  Legislation should authorize the suspension of travel authority for the child if the court determines that the parents are considering authorizing forced and child marriage or if the court determines that the child or a responsible adult has a reasonable fear that the parents are considering authorizing forced and child marriage. 

  Legislation should provide for procedures by which the parents can regain custody of the minor child, including receiving counseling and warnings.  Once the minor child has been returned to her parents, legislation should provide for on-going visits to the minor child by social service providers and counselors to ensure the well-being of the minor child. Legislation should provide for counseling of parents to ensure that minor children do not receive pressure to enter into a forced and child marriage.

  Legislation should provide that where court orders are issued for protection against forced and child marriage, the order remain in place until the parents have demonstrated at a court hearing that they understand the adverse consequences of forced and child marriage, and that they will not subject their daughter to forced and child marriage. 

  Legislation should provide for child-centered legal services, including representation for petitioning for civil or criminal liability victim compensation. 

  Legislation should presume that there is no justification for forced and child marriage and it is in the child’s best interests to not marry before the age of 18. 

See: Protecting Children from Harmful Practices in Plural Legal Systems, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary on Violence against Children, 2012; “This Old Man Can Feed Us, You Will Marry Him”, Human Rights Watch, 2013.

Illustrative Examples:

In Ghana, the Children’s Act of 1998, section 5 states: 

“No person shall deny a child the right to live with his parents and family and grow up in a caring and peaceful environment unless it is proved in court that living with his parents would—

(a)  lead to significant harm to the child; or

(b)  subject the child to serious abuse; or

(c)  not be in the best interest of the child.

In The Gambia, the Children’s Act provides that “…no child is capable of contracting a valid marriage, and a marriage so contracted is voidable.”

In Egypt, amendments to the Children’s Act (Act No 126 of 2008), raised the age of marriage for girls from 16 to 18 years. The Act provides that no marriage contract shall be authenticated if the parties have not attained the approved age and prescribes administrative punishment for failing to meet this condition.

South Sudan’s Child Act (2008) defines a child as anyone under 18 and states that every child has the right to be protected from early marriage, but the Act doesn’t specify a minimum age for marriage. Under the Act children’s rights to nondiscrimination, birth registration, health, education, life, survival and development, an opinion, protection from torture and degrading treatment, and to protection from abuse also are protected. Article 22 states that, “Government shall take concrete measures to protect children from all forms of abuse and to ensure that any child who becomes the victim of abuse … shall be accorded appropriate treatment and rehabilitation. The law also provides that those convicted of abusing a child can be sentenced to 14 years, and specifies that anyone convicted of violating the rights of a child can be convicted and sentenced to up to seven years under the Act.