Child marriage is a violation of human rights that impacts girls into adulthood and extends to…
The prevalence rate of Child Marriage in DRC
The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to up to 7 million Child Brides. 3 in every 10 women aged 20-24 years has been married before the age of 18 years (37%), while up to 10 % of girls are married before the age of 15 (DRC DHS, 2013-14).
2017 estimates indicate that the country loses up to USD 169 million in earnings and productivity due to Child Marriage (World Bank / ICRW, 2017).
Causes of Child Marriage in DRC
Protracted Humanitarian Crises such as armed conflict, disease outbreaks e.g Ebola & Cholera e.t.c leading to internal and external displacement and resettlement of millions of the DRC population have greatly exacerbated child marriage in DRC as they worsen poverty and insecurity. These and other factors are highlighted below:
Armed conflict and the resulting displacement of populations: The prolonged civil and tribal wars in DRC including the first Congo War of 1996-1997 and Africa’s First World War (1998-2003) have propagated widespread sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls, including the rape and forced marriage of girls to armed combatants as a weapon of war and to gain sovereignty over captured territories.
In addition, child marriage has been reported in resettlement camps where populations fleeing conflict and other crises have been displaced. In these settings, the limited rule of law has incentivised the trading of girls to older men who pay off families that are grappling with abject poverty and little or no food.
In DRC, girls in rural areas where traditional practices prevail such as marrying off girls soon after their first menstrual period, are twice as likely (40%) to be married before 18 years than those in urban areas ( 19%) (chart 1 above).
Almost half (45%) of the Girls in the poorest and second poorest settings in DRC are likely to be married before the age of 18 years, compared to those from middle and fourth quintiles of wealth who have 28% and 30% likelihood of marriage before 18. Girls in the richest settings have only an 8% chance of being married before the age of 18. Poverty mounts economic pressures on families which respond by marrying off their young daughters in exchange for a financial bride price and in-kind gifts, all of which objectify girls as the worth of a commodity.
Level of education:
According to the DRC Demographic Health Survey of 2013-2014 more girls with primary education 4% more likely to get married before 18 (47%) than those with no education (43%), whereas secondary education protects more than 77% of girls from getting married before 18, (Chart 3 above).
Similarly, findings from a 2017 study indicated uneducated girls were 14 times more likely to be married before the age of 18 than those with higher education.
With 122.9 births per 1,000 girls 15-19 years, DRC ranks 9th highest in Africa among countries with the highest teenage pregnancies. The country also has one of the highest adolescent fertility rates globally as contraceptive access and uptake in unacceptably low.
Another factor is the traditional and gender norms that instil and condition girls to take on maternal and wife roles from a tender age hence predisposing them to early sexual debut which in turn leads to pregnancy; oftentimes pregnant girls are married off to the men who impregnate them.
National Legal provisions in DRC Against Child Marriage
- According to the Child Protection Act, of 2009 the legal minimum age of marriage is 18 years for girls and boys with no exceptions.
National and Global Commitments made to End Child Marriage in DRC
- The 1994 ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child set 18 years as the minimum age of marriage.
- The 1995 adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) requires free and full consent to marriage. However, the CEDAW committee in 2013, and in 2017 the Child Rights Commission both raised concerns over the persistence of child marriages in rural areas of DRC including the payment of dowries to parents and urged the government to accelerate all legal, social, cultural, traditional and resource actions to End Child Marriage particularly the implementation of a national action plan.
- The 2008 signature and ratification of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa sets the minimum marriage age at 18 years.
- Co-sponsorship of the 2013 and 2014 UN General Assembly Resolutions including the Human Rights Council resolution on child, early and forced marriage; and the 2014 Human Rights Council resolution on Child Marriage.
- The 2014 and 2019 Universal Periodic Reviews where the country concurred on examining recommendations and adopting a national strategy to abolish child marriage.
- Signature of the Eastern and Southern Africa Ministerial Commitment on Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Sexual and Reproductive Health Services for Young People
- DRC’s 2019 ICPD25 (Nairobi Summit) commitment to end all forms of violence against women and girls, including early, child and forced marriage.
- The Implementation of interventions targeted to accelerate the reduction of HIV transmission among Adolescent Girls and Young Women through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/DREAMS Initiative.
- DRC is a Global Partnership for Education (GPE) country.
What is the government doing to End Child Marriage?
- In June 2017 the DRC government through its Ministry of Gender, Women and Children in collaboration with UNICEF launched the National Action Plan to End Child Marriage ( 2017-2019). The plan is estimated to cost over USD 2 million annually.
- In the war-ravaged South Kivu region, the Government partner- Debout Fille is partnering with Women’s Worldwide Web to implement Digital Learning Clubs and Spaces,” through which girls and young women are learning about reproductive and sexual health. These clubs help girls establish “Girls’ Parliaments,” through which they can engage in community decision-making and political advocacy to oppose child marriage. “Parents’ Schools” are also working to engage and educate parents. Debout Fille is currently training 1,200 girls and local community members.
- Similarly, in February 2020, in South Kivu, Girls Not Brides Member- Women for Equal Chances-Congo (WEC-Congo) worked with UNICEF and the Province to generate a provincial action plan against Child Marriage.
- In line with the Revised Family Code, the government has launched multi-level awareness-raising campaigns against Child Marriage.
- Enforcement of laws at all levels that protect girls’ and women’s rights and that impose long term punitive measures for perpetrators.
- Address systemic poverty, especially in rural areas through livelihoods improvement programmes and cash transfers to the most vulnerable families.
- Reinforce and strengthen programmes for retaining girls in school including re-entry programmes for victims of child marriage and teenage pregnancy.
- Awareness campaigns should engage all actors including girls, their parents, cultural and religious leaders as well as lawmakers and government and Non-Government officials.
- African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, [website], 2018.
- African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, [website], 2018,
- Clifford, L. et. al., Special Report: Sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 2008.
- Congolese Females Action for Promoting Rights and Development, DRC: Tackling Poverty and Child Marriage, Through Education and Women’s Empowerment, 2013.
- Elengemoke Mpilambo, J., et al, Determinants of Early Marriage among Young Women in Democratic Republic of Congo, Journal of Social Sciences, 52:1-3, 82-91, 2017,
- Erika Carlsen, Ra/pe and War in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Peace Review, 21:4, 474-483, 2009,
- European Commission, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2019,
- Free the Slaves, Wives in Slavery – Forced Marriage in the Congo Brief, 2015.
- Global Partnership for Education, Democratic Republic of Congo.
- Loi n° 09/001 du 10 janvier 2009 portant protection de l’enfant,
- Enquête Démographique et de Santé en République Démocratique du Congo 2013-2014,
- Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern African, 2014.
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Joint statement on child, early and forced marriage, HRC 27, Agenda Item 3, [website], 2014,
- Nairobi Soumit, Déclaration De La République Démocratique Du Congo Sur La Population Et Le Développement Au Sommet De La 25ème CIPD A Nairobi 12 Au 14 Novembre 2019.
- OCHA, About OCHA DRC,
- The Women’s Refugee Commission, A Girl No More: The Changing Norms of Child Marriage in Conflict, 2016, .
- U.S. Department of State, United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, , 2019 .
- CEDAW, Concluding observations on the combined sixth and seventh periodic reports of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2013 .
- UN CEDAW, Concluding observations on the eighth periodic report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, CEDAW/C/COD/CO/8, 2019, p. 17 and 18.
- UN CEDAW, eighth periodic report submitted by the Democratic Republic of the Congo under article 18 of the Convention, due in 2017, CEDAW/C/COD/8, 2018, P. 18,.
- UN Child Rights Committee, Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, CRC/C/COD/CO/3-5, 2017, p. 8, .
- UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2014, p.13. / 2019 Review
- UNFPA, Child marriage profiles, Democratic Republic of the Congo, General Information, 2012,
- UNHCR, Early marriage looks like our only option, say displaced Congolese teens, 2018, l