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Last update: Jan 2012


The term ‘child marriage’ is used to refer to both formal marriages and informal unions in which a girl/boy lives with a partner as if married before the age of 18. In 2003, UNICEF and partners agreed to focus on five indicators related to child marriage:
  • Percentage of women first in union by age 15 and 18 by age group
  • Percentage of girls 15–19 years of age currently married or in union
  • Spousal age difference
  • Percentage of women currently in a polygynous union by age groups
  • Percentage of ever-married women who were directly involved in the choice of their first husband or partner
  • Standard Modules

    Both the MICS and DHS surveys have standardized modules for child marriage:

    MICS | DHS

    The context and indicators related to child marriage and cohabitation can be approached through the examination of several age groups. One approach is to consider all women in a society. Another would be to observe the situation of girls aged 15–19 to determine the number of girls currently in union and the characteristics associated with that age group. However, the possibility of gauging how many of those girls will be married or in union by their 18th birthday is more complex because many have not yet reached the age of 18. Looking at the 20–24 age group is simpler and allows for the inclusion of all girls who were married or in union by age 18 within the closest time period for which complete data are available.

    The analyses presented in these pages are based on household survey data mainly from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS).