Child marriage is a violation of human rights that impacts girls into adulthood and extends to…
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.
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
- The 2016 Children’s Act and Article 31 of Amended Uganda Constitution set the minimum legal age for men and women at 18; while the Civil Marriages Act of 1904 sets minimum age at 21 but allows for marriage at 18 with legal parental consent.
However contrary to these laws and potentially facilitating child marriages in Uganda under the religious and traditional confines are the following laws
- The customary marriage registration act which provides for girls to be married at 16 and for boys at 18,
- The Hindu Marriage and Divorce Act (1961) which allows for girls to be married at 16 with parental consent.
- In the same way, the Marriage and Divorce act of Mohemmadans doesn’t set any minimum age for marriage.
Key Legal Statutory and Policy Frameworks in Place to End Child Marriage in Uganda?
- The UN and Girls Not Brides in 2015, supported the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development to develop a National Strategy on Ending Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy (2014/15 – 2019/20), and the Presidential Initiative for AIDS Strategy for Communication to Youth. The integrated strategy was cascaded to more than 15 districts which went on to allocate local budgets to ending Child Marriage. UNICEF supported the ministry conduct an evaluation of the strategy in 2021 and evaluation findings are informing the development of a new strategy.
- The Second National Development Plan (2015/16-2019/20) recommitted its clauses on reducing early marriages and adolescent pregnancies through increased access to reproductive health services and school retention programming.
- The Gender in Education Policy (2009), has a focus on school reintegration of girls who dropped out due to child marriage.
- The National Population Policy, qualified child marriage as a harmful traditional practice and reinforced urgent actions to end it .
- The National Strategy for Girls’ Education (NSGE) in Uganda (2015 – 2019), seeks to jointly address child marriages and adolescent pregnancies.
- The 2018 National Multi-Sectoral Coordination Framework for Adolescent Girls, has prioritised ending child marriages as a key Issue facing girls in the country.
- A Multi-Sectoral Communication for Development (C4D) Strategy for Adolescent Girls was developed to guide behaviour change strategies to lessen the practice.
- The first National Sexuality Education Framework, was launched in 2018 by Uganda’s Ministry of Education.
Global Commitments made by Uganda to End Child Marriages
- The 1990 ratification of the Convention of the Rights of the Child which set the minimum age of marriage at 18
- The 1985 ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
- Co-sponsorship to 2013, 2014 and 2018 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriages.
- Co-sponsorship of the 2013 Human Rights Council resolution on child, early and forced marriage.
- The 2014 signature of a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling on an end to child marriage.
- Uganda at the July 2014 London Girl’s Summit signed the charter committing to end Child Marriage by 2020.
- The 2015 launch of the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa.
- The 2016 Uganda Universal Periodic Review, provided directions for an action plan for effectively combatting child marriage.
- At the 2019 ICPD25 Nairobi Summit, the Ugandan President commitment to increase adolescent girl’s access to education services, reproductive health and family planning services.
- Signature to the 2030 SDGs particularly target 5.3 on Ending Child Marriages
- Signature to the 2020 Eastern and Southern Africa Ministerial Commitments on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people
- Uganda is a recipient of technical support from European Union and UN agencies under the Global Spotlight Initiative to end all forms of sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls.
- Implementation of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/DREAMS Initiative which seeks to reduce rates of HIV among girls and young women.
- Key engagement in the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, the Global Partnership for Education ( GPE) and the Her Choice Alliance to create Child Marriage free communities
- Girls not Brides Uganda profile
- UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage-Uganda Country Profile- 2022
- ICRW policy brief on Ending Child Marriage In Uganda
- Republic of Uganda and UNICEF, The National Strategy to end Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy 2014/2015 – 2019/2020, 2015,
- Republic of Uganda, REVIEW REPORT ON UGANDA’S READINESS FOR IMPLEMENTATION OF THE 2030 AGENDA, 2016,
- Spotlight Initiative, Uganda,
- UNICEF DATA, Uganda,
- African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, ,
- 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,
- African Union, Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa: Call to Action, 2013,
- Bantebya, G., et. al, Cross-generational and transactional sexual relations in Uganda: Income poverty as a risk factor for adolescents, Overseas Development Institute, 2014,
- 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,
- The Children Act, 2016,
- Constitution of the Republic of Uganda,
- Girl Summit 2014, The Girl Summit Charter on Ending FGM and Child, Early and Forced Marriage,
- Global Partnership for Education, Uganda,
- Government of Uganda & United Nations, The Multi-sectoral Communication for Development Strategy for Adolescent Girls, 2018,
- Government of Uganda, Ethnographic Study on Teenage Pregnancy and Early Marriages In Uganda, 2019, [unpublished].
- Her Choice, Programme, [website], 2018,
- Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa
- Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES), National Strategy for Girls’ Education (NSGE) in Uganda (2015 – 2019), 2013,
- Ministry of Education and Sports, National Sexuality Education Framework, 2018 .
- Nairobi Summit, STATEMENT FROM THE REPUBLIC OF UGANDA AT THE 2019 NAIROBI ICPD25 SUMMIT, [website], 2019,