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Child marriage is a human rights violation that robs girls of their childhoods and denies them the opportunities to determine their own futures and contributes to an intergenerational cycle of poverty.

Prevalence rate of Child Marriages in Uganda 

According to UNICEF, one in three young women (34%)  aged between 18 and 22 years in Uganda was married below the age of 18 with up to 7.3% married by 15 years. With an estimated 1.3 million girls married before the age of 15 and up to 4.7 million girls married by 18 years, Uganda ranks sixteenth globally of countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage in the world, and tenth for the highest absolute number of child brides. 

predominantly subjected to customary of informal marriages where they live with men either 0-4 years older and 5-9 years older, and up to `10.6% of these girls are taken as second, third or fourth wives.  

With estimates between 51 and 70 percent, the North Eastern Uganda region (Karamoja and Teso sub regions) has the highest percentage of women aged 20 to 24 years who were first married or are in a union before 18 years, followed by the West Nile, Lango and Bugisu sub regions which have up to 41 to 50 percent of child brides ( Map 1 above, UNICEF/Uganda DHS 2016 Data)

If child marriage was stopped today, Uganda would earn up to $2.7 billion by 2030 from additional purchasing power parity lost to young women being married early. 

 What drives Child Marriages in Uganda

  • Poverty: Up to 54% of Girls from the poorest households marry below 18 compared to 37% and 18% in the middle and richest wealth quintiles (Chart 1 below). Girls are traded for bride price to relieve family financial burdens whereas others seek marriage for basic life needs such as food, sanitary wear and under garments.   

In addition, poverty as a main cause is compounded by Uganda’s very high teenage pregnancy and defilement rates, which are a result of the breakdown in community level child protection structures and the rampant intergenerational and transactional relationships that predispose  girls to forceful sex by older men in exchange for small favours such as food and sanitary wear. Once girls are defiled and impregnated, parents often marry them off to the perpetrators to ward off disgrace.

  • Education: 

According the  chart 2 above (UNICEF data) , No or low levels of education predispose girls to early marriage in Uganda. Up to 66% of women aged 20 to 24 years who were first married or in union before age 18 in Uganda had no education at all compared to 47% of women with primary education and 17% of girls with secondary or higher education. Deeply ingrained cultural and traditional beliefs and gender stereotypes such as : a general belief that girls are only good for marriage , marrying girls early instead of education safeguards family dignity ; girls are ready for marriage at their first period and when their breasts develop ;  and in some cultures a girl is considered ready for marriage following Genital Mutilation. All these factors have resulted in low levels of both primary and secondary school retention and completion.  

  • Orphan hood: With 32% of households hosting orphaned children in Uganda , girls in these homes are at increased risk or early child marriage, defilement and teenage pregnancy as their caregivers marry them off to meet family needs. 
  • Displacement and Humanitarian settings: the volatility created by situations of natural disasters , conflicts and epidemics have shown to increase vulnerability of girls to early marriage. By 2021, Uganda was hosting up to 1.5 million refugees with the highest number originating from South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo , Rwanda and Eritrea. Further exacerbating existing deprivations to refugees and displaced populations has been the COVID19 pandemic which has led to breakdowns in access to health and education services and increased poverty leaving families in dire economic hardships and increasing vulnerability of girls to child marriage especially in settlement camps where customary practices prevail and legal protection is difficult to enforce.

Existing legal framework around child marriages in Uganda 

 However contrary to these laws and potentially facilitating child marriages in Uganda under the religious and traditional confines are the following laws

Key Legal Statutory and Policy Frameworks in Place to End Child Marriage in Uganda? 

Global Commitments made by Uganda to End Child Marriages


  1. Girls not Brides Uganda profile 
  2. UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage-Uganda Country Profile- 2022
  3. ICRW policy brief on Ending Child Marriage In Uganda 
  4. Republic of Uganda and UNICEF, The National Strategy to end Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy 2014/2015 – 2019/2020, 2015
  6. Spotlight Initiative, Uganda
  7. UNICEF DATA, Uganda, 
  8. African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child,
  9. 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
  10. African Union, Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa: Call to Action, 2013, 
  11. Bantebya, G., et. al, Cross-generational and transactional sexual relations in Uganda: Income poverty as a risk factor for adolescents, Overseas Development Institute, 2014
  12. Chae S., Timing of orphanhood, early sexual debut, and early marriage in four sub-Saharan African countries, Stud Fam Plann, 44(2):123–146, 2013
  13. The Children Act, 2016
  14. Constitution of the Republic of Uganda
  15. Girl Summit 2014, The Girl Summit Charter on Ending FGM and Child, Early and Forced Marriage
  16. Global Partnership for Education, Uganda 
  17. Government of Uganda & United Nations, The Multi-sectoral Communication for Development Strategy for Adolescent Girls, 2018
  18. Government of Uganda, Ethnographic Study on Teenage Pregnancy and Early Marriages In Uganda, 2019, [unpublished].
  19. Her Choice, Programme, [website], 2018
  20. Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa
  21. Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES), National Strategy for Girls’ Education (NSGE) in Uganda (2015 – 2019), 2013
  22. Ministry of Education and Sports, National Sexuality Education Framework, 2018 .
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