Based on the insights from girls, program practitioners, and existing research, this page provides recommendations on how sexuality-related drivers of child marriage can be addressed in practice. Find recommendations on how sexuality-related drivers of child marriage can be addressed in practice on this page, based on the insights from girls, program practitioners, and existing research.
Key strategies to adress sexuality in child marriage
Girl empowerment, mobilizing families and communities, providing services, and establishing and implementing laws and policies are four categories that Girls Not Brides. We move beyond these four key strategies, and also provide general recommendations to improve how child marriage programmes organize and collaborate to effectively address sexuality-related drivers. Although child marriage programmes are context-specific, find key recommendations on how to address sexuality in your programmes below!
It is important to acknowledge that due to the lack of opportunities and the gender discrimination and inequality they face, empowerment interventions alone do not always suffice for girls to make alternative life choices. It can be difficult for girls to make alternative choices as this research example from Niger shows. Furthermore, girls may use their (limited) agency in favor of marriage in contexts where marriage is a way to secure economic security, social belonging, and respect. Check out our five tips for addressing girl’s agency in programs and read the full article with tools to understand girls’ agency and community control to better design activities that match girls’ empowerment needs.
Success stories stem from the experiences of girls who can be role models for others or even parents who are early adopters in avoiding early marriage. While you can use success stories to inspire others to change their behavior, risks remain that girl role models receive negative reactions in their communities. Therefore, it is important that you manage these through working with adult mentors and building a supportive environment.
A peer-to-peer approach can be an effective way of sharing SRHR information with young people and their peers. You can use it during outreach activities or in small group activities where peer-educators (also referred to as youth leaders or mentors) discuss SRHR issues. By creating a safe space among peers, it makes it easier to talk openly about sensitive topics. However, be mindful in how you use peer-to-peer approaches. Research has shown that peer education is only effective when lack of information is identified as a root cause of child marriage and poor SRHR outcomes, when it is of good quality, and when it is used with other interventions. Important quality elements include:
- the use of quality peer education materials;
- job aids and supervision tools;
- peers are carefully selected to ensure they are actually peers of the target population;
- peers are well trained;
- peer educators have links and are able to refer peers to health services;
- peer educators are supervised at minimum on a monthly basis;
- peer educators are provided with appropriate incentives.
Implementing strategies to support the economic empowerment of girls is a useful intervention to address child marriage, especially when poverty is a key driver. Economic empowerment helps girls to have the ability to make and act on decisions that involve the control over and allocation of financial resources. It has the potential to influence gender perspectives and, as a result, affect dowry and bride price practices that influence perceptions of girl marriageability. This may reduce the perceived demand for families to marry off their daughters and prevent girls from engaging in transactional sex. However, be mindful that if the intervention is not set up in a gender-transformative manner, girls will reconsider marriage, seeing it as their best option once their education, business, or employment ends, fails, or is perceived to fail.
Mobilize families & communities
In many communities, social and gender norms, aimed at controlling girls’ sexuality, drive child marriages. Engaging families and communities to address these deep-rooted values and traditions is a key strategy to improve your child marriage programme(s).
You can make your work more effective and sustainable in addressing gender and sexuality related root causes of child marriage by building on existing ways in which communities share information about gender and sexuality. Check out this article to read more how practitioners have learned with and from communities and jointly identified and implemented interventions to change social norms based on existing community practice.
Engaging families in child marriage programmes is important given that parents are an important enabler to change. Read more about strategies you can use in working with them in this article and check-out this Practitioner’s Guide To Working with Parents to End Child Marriage’ infographic. Using innovative and participatory approaches highlighted in the products above, you can foster stronger partnerships with parents to empower girls through their support and address underlying root causes of child marriage.
Religious leaders have a significant influence on a community’s norms, values and taboos. In these communities, engaging religious leaders can be a major success factor to create a positive impact. Working alongside them can be challenging and may take time. Religious leaders’ traditional views on girls’ sexuality, contraceptives, and pre-marital relations can pose barriers that take time to evolve. However, identifying and working with role models amongst religious leaders can be a strategy to overcome these barriers.
In order to achieve positive behavior and norm changes in communities engaging boys and men in your child marriage program is key. Men are important stakeholders as parents, partners and brothers of women and girls. In patriarchal societies boys and men often play a role in controlling girls’ sexuality which reinforces gender inequality. For example, fathers or brothers may control girls by protecting them from meeting boys and partners are decision makers regarding sexual relations and contraceptive use. Thus, working with them to create positive change can provide a significant shift in providing girls with the space and support they need to make decisions regarding their sexuality and lives overall.
Raising awareness through arts can leverage creative outlets and formats to attract attention and connect with the communities you want to reach. These approaches can be effective ways to address information gaps and misconceptions about changing social/cultural norms related to sexuality. Examples on how to leverage this include using street drama and theather; audio-visual materials (such as animations) and radio programming. Check for example how drama was used in follow-up on youth-led research in Nepal.
Working with communities comes with its own unique challenges and you may realize that not everyone is in favour of change. For example, in contexts where child marriage is practiced, community members, including community and religious leaders, may believe that discussing sexuality promotes ‘immoral’ behaviour. In your programme to address child marriage, you may also have to address pre-existing misconceptions and negative perceptions towards family planning and contraceptives or might even face challenges stemming from pre-existing negative perceptions about NGOs, based on the belief they are imposing ‘foreign’ culture. Anticipating backlash and working with communities to address the underlying causes of this backlash can strengthen your efforts to tackle child marriage issues.
Several structural barriers exist that stand in the way for girls to make decisions about their lives, one of which is their access to key services. Services can include enhancing access to quality education, healthcare, or child protection mechanisms. For example, the unavailability of reproductive health services and information can increase the risk that girls’ face for early or unwanted pregnancy and marriage. By providing services and advocating for service provision through your child marriage programme you can support reducing child marriages and addressing underlying gender and sexuality norms.
Working with young people to promote youth-friendly services is key in bolstering their access to healthcare. Adolescents and young people often lack access to quality SRHR information, and services, including contraceptives, while health service providers often lack trained, adolescent-competent staff, and do not offer adolescent-friendly services. Services are either lacking in privacy and confidentiality, do not offer a comprehensive package of SRHR services or service delivery points may be limited. To tackle this, you can advocate for adolescent-responsive health system approach through your programme and in doing so, align -with the global movement to advance Universal Health Coverage and the WHO guidance on ASRHR.
Establishment & support of laws
Many countries lack robust legislative frameworks which can help to prevent child marriage and support married girls.
A robust legislative framework can provide an important backdrop for improvements in services, changes in social norms, and girls empowerment. It is important to acknowledge that, although child marriage laws and legislation provide a legal framework, they may push child marriages underground or reinforce existing gender inequalities. However, the establishment and implementation of laws will not automatically change gender inequitable social norms around sexuality A key point to note is that laws should not just focus on the age of marriage, but also focus on ensuring girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights. This qualitative research conducted by our partner Population Council, highlights these unintended consequences of child marriage laws.
Advocating for this and acknowledging that laws alone aren’t enough and should be enacted alongside other strategies can help you to make your efforts to address child marriage issues more impactful.
Organizing & collaboration child marriage programs that address sexuality
As you design, roll out and evaluate your efforts it is important to see how existing structures can support your goals to address child marriage issues. Existing structures may include: committees, health service providers, education structures, child protection structures, youth groups, and other influential structures. The structures can help improve your programmes by tapping into and acknowledging communities and familiar organizations that community members and girls’ trust. Another benefit to this, is that by working with different actors within these structures, you can make the most of the interlinkages and foster a stronger collaboration to tackle issues from different angles.
Drivers of child marriage, including those related to gender inequality and girls’ sexuality, are context-specific. Thus, when following the project cycle in your own work, take the steps visualized below to REFLECT, PLAN, ACT, and LEARN. Doing so can ensuring that sexuality-related drivers are addressed in your programme to help end child marriage.
Young people can be powerful catalyst for the change they want to see. In your work addressing their rights and needs, you need to acknowledge their right to participate and engage them meaningfully in your work. Furthermore, it is important to involve them in broader programmatic efforts and advocacy efforts towards policymaking. Girls, adolescents, and youth should be driving actors throughout the programme cycle, including in the programme design, development, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. Adolescents led- and informed advocacy is a right and critical for systemic shifts to positively affect all adolescents. Quality youth participation should be transparent, voluntary, youth-friendly, , relevant, respectful, inclusive, safe, accountable, and supported by trained adults. An example of a youth-led process and how this can benefit both youth and the your programme(s), can be read in this booklet about our learning project’s youth-led research experience.
Preferred Program Strategies by Practitioners
Using the main domains from Girls Not Brides as response categories, we asked practitioners, “From your perspective, what is the most effective strategy for addressing issues related to sexuality and child marriage in your country?” We find that empowering girls was most frequently chosen as the most effective strategy across countries, followed by mobilizing families and communities. See the graph below for more details.