Project Description

Barriers to addressing sexuality in child marriage programmes

There are many challenges programmes face in addressing adolescent girls’ sexuality and the links between sexuality and child marriage. In many contexts, sex and sexuality are taboo topics, which are extremely difficult to discuss openly, particularly with children and adolescents. This page includes further insights from girls, practitioners, and researchers on what they see as the most pressing barriers to addressing sexuality in child marriage programmes. Here we define a few key barriers found to be relevant across contexts, but these are by no means the only challenges.

Parents would not consider the topics appropriate for programming involving their adolescent children
In many contexts, parental permission is required for unmarried girls to participate in programmes or clubs addressing child marriage. This can be a barrier for addressing sexuality if parents are not comfortable with their daughters learning about this topic. Consequently, programmes may cut this topic from curricula in order to more effectively reach adolescent girls.

Political or religious opposition
Discussions related to adolescent sexuality can be considered taboo and may bring considerable negative attention in more conservative contexts. In such settings, program implementors and their organizations must consider how backlash may influence their ability to carry out their work. In some cases, this means topics like sexuality are off the table.

Social taboos & other cultural reasons
In some contexts, open discussion of sex and sexuality is considered taboo and not in line with cultural values. Another cultural reason why the topic of sexuality may be excluded from child marriage programming is that sexuality is understood as relating more closely to programmes such as comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in schools than to child marriage programming.

Programme does not consider sexuality a major driver of child marriage
In some contexts, adolescent sexuality may not be considered a driver of child marriage and other drivers may attract more focus. While sexuality may be linked to other child marriage drivers, such as family honour and pronatalism, an explicit link to sexuality may not be recognized in all contexts.

Programme implementing staff are not comfortable discussing sexuality
It can be uncomfortable for program implementers to discuss sex and sexuality with adolescent girls and/or parents. Program implementers need training and support to be able to raise these topics in a culturally appropriate way.

This table provides an overview of the barriers most frequently cited by the 144 program implementers across 14 countries who responded to the MMWWK child marriage landscaping survey.

How to overcome these barriers in programs

Curious about recommendations on how to overcome barriers to addressing sexuality in child marriage programs? Read more on the recommendations page or filter articles insights and recommendations relevant to the barriers you face most below.