Prevalence of Forced and Child Marriage

Forced and child marriage mainly affects young women and girls, although there are cases of young men and boys being forced to marry—especially if there are concerns about his sexual orientation.

Reliable statistics on forced marriage are difficult to compile due to the unofficial and, therefore, undocumented nature of most forced marriages. According to the 2007 report by Sigma Huda, victims’ resistance to speaking out against their typically “closed” families or communities poses another obstacle to collecting reliable data.  The lack of a birth certificate can also mean that the victim has no way to prove that they are a victim of child marriage.

While forced and child marriages, as well as early motherhood, are becoming increasingly less common among the wealthiest sectors of society in all regions of the world, they persist in Africa and South Asia, as well as certain areas of the Former Soviet Union.  In 2003, the International Centre for Research on Womenestimated that more than 51 million girls under 18 years were married and they expected the figure to rise to over 100 million within the next ten years.  Similarly, in 2006, experts estimated that thirty-eight percent of young women aged 20 to 24 in the fifty least developed countries were married before the age of 18.

In “Early Marriage: A Harmful Traditional Practice,” UNICEF estimates that among women aged 15 to 24, 48 percent were married before the age of 18 in South Asia. In Bangladesh, 27.3 percent of women aged 15 to19 years old were married by the age of 15, and 65.3 percent of women aged 20 to 24 were married before the age of 18.

UNICEF estimates that in Africa 42 percent of women aged 15 to 24 were married before the age of 18. In Niger, 27.3 percent of women ages 15 to19 were married before the age of 15, and 76.6 percent of women ages 20 to 24 were married before the age of 18. According to surveys conducted by the National Committee on Traditional Practices of Ethiopia (NCTPE), the prevalence of marriage by abduction is as high as 92 per cent in Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR), with a national average of 69 percent.

According to “Kidnapping for Marriage in a Kyrgyz Village," forced and child marriages have surged since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The practice of bride kidnapping or bride abduction is the most common form of forced marriage in this region. Bride abductions have been reported in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Tajikistan, and Albania. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, bride abduction was used by consenting couples who could not otherwise marry due to financial difficulties or social constraints. Today, most bride abductions occur in spite of a girl or young woman’s protestations and often involve men’s families, who sometimes instigate and conspire in the abduction.  In Kyrgyzstan, “bride-kidnapping” is becoming more common. Human Rights Watch found that, approximately 40 percent of women in cities had been victims of bride kidnapping while 60 to 80 percent of village women had been victims.  

Forced and child marriages are not limited to these regions of the world. In Afghanistan, for example, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission estimates that over 38 percent of women have been victims of forced marriage. In Albania, some families encourage girls to marry young to prevent them from being kidnapped on their way to school. UNICEF has stated that 54 percent of Afghan girls are victims of child marriage. The United Kingdom’s forced marriage unit sees over 250 cases a year.