WHY
RECOMMENDATIONS
METHODS
LIBRARY

Introduction

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. Recommendations on this page are organized in relation to four key child marriage program intervention strategies  suggested by Girls Not Brides.

Although child marriage programmes are context-specific, here are some key recommendations on how to address sexuality in your programmes:

Key strategies to adress sexuality in child marriage

Girls Not Brides organizes approaches and strategies used in child marriage programmes into four categories: girl empowerment, mobilising families and communities, providing services, and establishing and implementing laws and policies. Beyond these four key strategies, there are also general recommendations for organisation and collaboration for child marriage programmes that address sexuality-related drivers.

Empower girls

For girls to refuse child marriage, they must ‘own’ their rights and be able to support their own alternative life plans.

A girls’ empowerment strategy focuses on strengthening the girl’s agency, providing them with opportunities to build skills and knowledge, helping them understand and exercising their sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), and developing support networks.

Recommendations

Empowerment activities assume that girls have the agency to make alternative life choices. However, given their often marginalised position in society, it can be difficult for girls to claim their agency. Furthermore, some girls may use their limited agency in favour of early marriage. Before implementing empowerment activities, programs should learn from girls’ coping strategies to build activities that match their specific 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. Using success stories can inspire others to change their behaviour, however, there remain risks. For example, girl role models can receive negative reactions in their communities.

A peer-to-peer approach can be an effective way of sharing SRHR information with other young people. It is used in youth groups 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. Difficulties with this approach include the quality and sustainability of interventions. However, this approach is likely to be ineffective if no other interventions accompany it.

Economic empowerment is a useful intervention to address child marriage, especially when poverty is a key driver. Economic empowerment has the potential to influence gender perspectives and, as a result, affect dowry and bride price practices. This may reduce the perceived demand for families to marry off their daughters and prevent girls from engaging in sexual relationships because of the need for money. However, if the intervention is not set up from a gender-appropriate perspective, girls will reconsider marriage, seeing it as their best option once education/business/employment end or fail (or are perceived to fail).

Life skills education inspires girls to use their agency to create the future they want. Life skills and SRHR education focuses on strengthening adolescent girls’ capacity, leadership, and self-confidence to make their own decisions in regards to sexuality along with the ability to advocate for their rights. Content should be contextualised to explicitly address context-specific sexuality-related drivers of child marriage.

Mobilize families & communities

In many communities,social and gender norms, aimed at controlling girls’ sexuality, drive child marriages.Engaging families and communitiesto address these deep-rooted values and traditions is a key program strategy.

Recommendations

Learn how communities are addressing sexuality-related drivers of child marriage and engage communities in identifying and implementing solutions. This way, the community is in charge of identifying sustainable solutions.

Despite engaging the community, not everyone will be in favour of change. This may include comments from community members who think discussing sexuality promotes ‘immoral’ behaviour. Programmes will also have to manage pre-existing negative perceptions towards contraceptives. Programmes might even face challenges stemming from pre-existing negative perceptions of NGOs, based on the belief they are imposing ‘foreign’ culture.

Programmes must engage families given parents are an important enabler to change. Intergenerational dialogue is a common strategy used to address norms around sexuality. This could take place as a community dialogue session, where youth, parents, and elders participate. Such dialogues help address social norms and behaviours, creating a supportive environment for girls. They can be an effective way to create an open and safe space to discuss issues that people might feel shy or uncomfortable talking about with family.

Religious leaders have a significant influence on a community’s norms and taboos. In these communities, engaging religious leaders can be a major success factor for creating a positive impact. Working alongside them can be challenging and will take time. Religious leaders’ traditional views on girls’ sexuality, contraceptives, and pre-marital relations can pose barriers that take time to evolve.

Programs must engage boys and men to achieve positive behaviour/norm change in communities. Men are important stakeholders concerning gender and sexuality norms because they often play a role in controlling girls’ sexuality, for example by protecting them from dating with boys.

Raising awareness through the arts can address information gaps and misconceptions about changing social/cultural norms related to sexuality. Audio-visual material, theatre for development, radio programming and animations can be effective ways to disseminate information.

Provide services

There are structural barriers in healthcare that can push girls into child marriages and early pregnancyand prevent them from accessing support once they are married. These include a lack of access to qualityeducation, healthcare, or childprotection mechanisms. For example, unavailability of reproductive health services and information enhances the risk of unwanted pregnancy and marriage.

Recommendations

Young people often lack access to SRHR information and contraceptives, while health centres often lack staff and locations to deliver this age-specific information. To overcome this challenge, all actors should promote youth-friendly health services and explore alternatives, such as peer-to-peer services.

Establishment & support of laws

Many countries lack robust legislative frameworks which can help to prevent child marriage and support married girls.

Recommendations

A robust legislative framework can provide an important backdrop for improvements in services, changes in social norms, and improve the empowerment of girls. However, the establishment and implementation of laws will not automatically change social norms around sexuality. Therefore, legislation should be enacted alongside other programme strategies.

Although laws can provide a legal framework, they may result in child marriages going underground or reinforcing existing gender inequalities. Laws should not just focus on the age of marriage, more on ensuring girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights.

Organizing & collaboration child marriage programs that address sexuality

Addressing sexuality in child marriage programmes requires strong internal organisation, such as capacity-strengthening workforces.

Recommendations

By working through existing structures, such as committees, health workers, youth groups, and other influential structures, programmes benefit from community members and girls’ pre-existing trust in familiar organisations. Using existing structures and institutions facilitates community engagement. Furthermore, as key programme strategies are often interlinked, they require collaboration between all participating actors.

Drivers of child marriage, including those related to gender inequality and girls’ sexuality, are context-specific. When following the project cycle, take the following steps to REFLECT, PLAN, ACT, and LEARN, ensuring that sexuality-related drivers are addressed in your programme to help end child marriage.

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.

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