Social Protection and Child Marriage: Evidence, Practice and Opportunities


Evidence suggests that child marriage increases during times of crisis (for example tripling in Syrian refugee camps in Jordan between 2011 and 2014), with disproportionate negative impacts on girls. COVID-19 poses unique challenges, UNNFPA estimates that an additional 13 million child marriages will take place and we risk losing some of the substantial progress made against goals to reduce child marriage, particularly when we consider the likely impact of global school closures. Experience from other pandemics suggests that getting girls back into school will be particularly challenging, with knock-on effects on child marriage. Recent World Bank analysis suggests that close to 7 million students from primary up to secondary education could drop out due to income shock related to COVID-19 alone. Whilst gender inequality is a root cause of child marriage, increased economic stresses, and family fears about the risks of violence against girls can also be drivers, particularly in times of crisis.

We know that social protection can play a critical role in reducing income insecurity and enabling girls and boys to access education, two key pathways for delaying marriage. Yet few programmes deliberately and directly target child marriage in their objectives, activities, or monitoring and evaluation of results. The current evidence base on cash transfers and child marriage is mixed, leading some practitioners to voice concerns about programming at all in this area. This webinar explored:

  • What is the current evidence base on the role of social protection in preventing child marriage, and where are the gaps in knowledge?
  • How can social protection address child marriage, and what programme design characteristics might support better results in this area, particularly for adolescent girls?
  • What can we learn from current child marriage programming and how can we make more effective links between child marriage, child protection, and social protection programming?



Nicola Jones, Principal Research Fellow, ODI

Nankali Maksud, Senior Child Protection Adviser, UNICEF

Rachel Yates, Girls Not Brides



Tia Palermo, Associate Professor, University of Buffalo


This was the twenty-fifth webinar of the “Social protection responses to COVID-19” webinar series. The series is a joint effort initiated by the IPC-IGGIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and the Australia Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) collaboration with the platform, and in cooperation with partners from different organisations. Join the online community ''Social protection responses to COVID-19 [Task force]'' to learn more about the initiative and future webinars.

The SPIAC-B Gender Working Group, consisting of representatives from several agencies, including UNICEF, DFID, FAO, IPC-IG, UNICEF Innocenti, UN Women among others, is organising webinars of the larger Social Protection responses to COVID-19 webinar series. You can join the Gender-Responsive Social Protection Online Community if you are interested in learning about the gender impacts of COVID-19.