Our Causes

Ending Child Marriage

Issue in Focus

Child marriage is any formal or informal union where one or both of the parties are under 18 years old, according to Girls Not Brides. Early and forced marriage happens across countries, cultures and religions. Each year, 12 million girls are married before they turn 18. More than 100 million additional girls will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030 without more action taken. 

It is estimated that 650 million women alive today were married as girls. Worldwide, about 21% of girls are married in childhood. Child brides are often pulled out of school and are at a greater risk of violence, being trapped in poverty and serious health complications or even death due to early pregnancy.

  • Globally, one in every five girls is formally married or in an informal union, before reaching age 18. In the least developed countries, that number almost doubles – 36% of girls are married before age 18, and 10% of girls are married before age 15.
  • Girls with no education are three times as likely to marry by 18 as those with a secondary or higher education. 
  • 90% of adolescent pregnancies in the developing world are to girls who are already married. 
  • Girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are twice as likely to die in childbirth as women in their 20s, and newborn children of younger mothers face greater risks of dying. 
  • Early marriage doubles a teenager’s chances of living in poverty and triples the likelihood she will be beaten by her spouse, compared to married adults.

Zonta in Action

Child marriage directly hinders eight of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. While the prevalence of child marriage is declining, efforts to address this human rights violation must be significantly scaled up. At this rate, it would take another 50 years to eliminate child marriage worldwide.

Zonta International has partnered with UNICEF USA and UNFPA to support the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage , which is working to achieve lasting change on a significant scale by tackling the human rights violation in a dozen of the most high-prevalence or high-burden countries.

Since the program’s launch in 2016, more than 7.7 million adolescent girls and more than 4.2 million community members have been reached with information, skills and services. The Global Programme has successfully completed Phases I and II with tremendous results through government support and civil society partners including women’s groups and youth-led groups directly in 12 countries (Africa, the Middle East and South Asia). Progress in the past decade has prevented 25 million child marriages, of which 18 million were because of the acceleration efforts. By 2023, the program will begin it’s Phrase III and focus efforts on empowering adolescent girls to use their voices against social norms, making health resources and education accessible, and encouraging local government commitment to provide gender-responsive services and implement law to align with human rights standards.

In addition to its support of the Global Programme, Zonta has participated in advocacy efforts around the world to shine a light on child marriage through the Zonta Says NO to Violence Against Women campaign and other partnerships and events. 

The Zonta USA Caucus, a member of the National Coalition to End Child Marriage in the United States, is helping thousands of Zonta members and other supporters in the U.S. speak out against child marriage in the United States.

In April 2020, the Zonta USA Caucus, in partnership with UNICEF USA, launched a yearlong national Public Service Announcement billboard campaign to stop child marriages in the United States. The billboards direct people to stopchildmarriages.org, which provides facts about child marriage in the United States and allows users to call on their state representative and state senator to support legislation to end child marriage with zero exceptions in their state.  

Additionally, clubs around the world—from the Philippines to Austria—are holding events to create awareness of early and forced marriage. With our international project to end child marriage and advocacy efforts from members around the world, Zonta is actively working to put an end to this human rights violation.

Stand with women and girls worldwide


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