(November 2015) The African Girl’s Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Africa is taking place Nov. 26-27, 2015, in Lusaka, Zambia, to enhance awareness of the effects of child marriage and accelerate its end. The meeting, organized by the African Union Commission in collaboration with the government of Zambia, brings together United Nations dignitaries, high-level representatives from member states, first ladies, civil society organizations, community and religious leaders, and other stakeholders.

Angeline Siparo, PRB senior consultant, is participating in the Summit to share PRB’s insights about this critical topic. Some key messages are that child marriage is a violation of human rights and undermines progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals of eliminating poverty, increasing educational attainment, improving gender equality, and empowering women and girls.

One in three women in developing countries are married before the age of 18.1 Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are among those with the highest prevalence of child marriage in the world: Seventeen countries in the region have 40 percent or more married by age 18 (see table).2

Child Marriage (%) 2005-2013*

Country Married by 15 Married by 18
Niger 28 76
Central African Republic 29 68
Chad 29 68
Mali 15 55
Burkina Faso 10 52
Guinea 21 52
South Sudan 9 52
Malawi 12 50
Mozambique 14 48
Somalia 8 45
Sierra Leone 18 44
Nigeria 17 43
Zambia 9 42
Eritrea 13 41
Ethiopia 16 41
Madagascar 12 41
Uganda 10 40

Notes: *Data refer to the most recent year available during the period specified in the column heading; Child marriage refers to the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were first married or in union before they were 15 years old and percentage of women 20-24 years old who were first married or in union before they were 18 years old.
Source: UNICEF, State of the World’s Children 2015: Reimagine.

In order to end child marriage, civil society groups in sub-Saharan Africa are promoting legislation to increase the legal age of marriage to 18. But these laws must be adopted (in some cases) and enforced, through such measures as stringent penalties for parents who arrange early marriages for their children and through trainings for community leaders and law enforcement. Policies and programs that address risk factors for entering into marriage at a young age can also help reduce its occurrence. Policymakers, for example, can ensure that young girls stay in school during their adolescent years. Behavior change techniques can shift community norms, and encourage a movement away from the values and beliefs that perpetuate child marriage.3

For more information on child marriage

Kate Belohlav is a policy analyst at the Population Reference Bureau.


  1. Alexandra Hervish and Charlotte Feldman-Jacobs, Who Speaks for Me? Ending Child Marriage (Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2011).
  2. ICRW, “Child Marriage Facts and Figures,” accessed at www.icrw.org/child-marriage-facts-and-figures, on Nov. 19, 2015.
  3. African Union, “Draft Concept Note, African Girl’s Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Africa,” accessed at http://pages.au.int/sites/default/files, on Nov. 19, 2015.