“A Theory of Change on Child Marriage”

“Every year, approximately 14 million girls are married before they turn 18, across countries, cultures and religions. Robbed of their childhood, denied their rights to health, education and security” (Girls Not Brides, 2014).

GirlsNotBrides-LogoChild marriage poses a huge problem all over the world today. How can this practice be addressed in a proper way? What can be done in order to end child marriage? And which different approaches need to be considered?

Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of over 300 civil society actors including The Hunger Project, is committed to the issue of ending child marriage. Their Theory of Change on Child Marriage (2014) is a response to child marriage and illustrates how this topic could effectively be addressed as well as which approaches towards child marriage should be included. At the same time, the Theory of Change illustrates “that there is no single solution to ending child marriage and that everyone has a role to play. Ultimately efforts to address child marriage must respond to local contexts and accordingly programs and investments may take different forms.”

Guiding Principles

The Theory of Change reflects six guiding principles:

  1. It is important to state that the theory does not only focus on preventing child marriage but also on mitigation and support of girls who are already married.
  2. The focus on the impact of child marriages on girls does not mean the impact on boys should be neglected. However, focusing on girls is necessary in order to highlight the importance of gender equality.
  3. The theory includes both forms of child marriages: formal and informal unions.
  4. In order to end child marriage, action by multiple actors at many levels is required.
  5. Although change happens locally, national, regional and global actions are necessary in order to “create an environment that offers girls opportunities beyond the traditional roles envisaged for them.”
  6. Both parties should be freely and fully agreed to their marriage. However, this is rarely the case where one of the spouses is under the age of 18.

Theory of Change

The Theory of Change contains seven levels: 1.) Problem, 2.) Catalyzing strategy, 3.) Strategies, 4.) Outcomes, 5.) Results, 6.) Impact and 7.) Vision. However, as Girls not Brides points out “[i]t is important to recognise that the relationships between different levels are not causal or linear but represent a broader view of how change will occur.”

The different levels encompass the following:

  • Problem: As a first step, it is necessary to understand the problem of child marriage, to be aware of the different settings in which child marriage takes place, as well as the different drivers of it. And finally, it is important to be aware of the need to address the issue.
  • Catalyzing strategy: In order to achieve gender equality and end child marriage, the catalyzing strategy underlines that child marriage needs to be addressed within a broad framework of development and human rights. Ending child marriage is a complex and long-term task that requires awareness of the issue. It also requires local, national, regional and international strategic cooperation, resources, data collection and a monitoring system.
  • Strategies: Most of the existing strategies to address the problem of child marriage fall within one of these four categories: 1) empowering girls, 2) mobilizing families and communities, 3) providing services, and 4) establishing and implementing laws and policies. Since all of the strategies are interlinked and mutually reinforcing, it is necessary to combine the related actions in a context-specific way that takes into consideration the different drivers of child marriage in each region.
  • Outcomes: The next level addresses the outcomes that are targeted by following these four strategies. Change is aimed to be reached with regard to the attitudes and conditions of 1) girls, 2) families and communities, 3) services, and 4) laws and policies.
  1. Girls: If girls are aware of their rights and enabled to develop necessary skills to support their own life and each other, that would constitute an important factor in increasing their ability to refuse marriages. However, this has to be accompanied by economic and social alternatives for unmarried girls as well as a shift in the perception of it by both girls and their families.
  2. Families and communities: A shift of social norms is essential to end child marriage. Among others, families and communities have to become more aware of the harm of child marriage, and alternatives to child marriage need to be accepted. Therefore the media plays an important role.
  3. Services: To prevent girls from being pushed into child marriage, structural barriers needs to be removed, for example, in the education sector. Likewise, married and unmarried girls must have access to safe and quality education. Conditions which stop families sending girls to school must be considered and removed.
  4. Laws and policies: Both laws and policies play an important role for the improvement of services, the changes of social norms as well as girls’ empowerment.
  • Results: The results, on the other hand, “reflect the demonstrated changes in behavior on the part of individuals, families and communities, program implementers, and law enforcement officials as a consequence of surrounding changes in attitudes and conditions.” Depending on the given region and context, “different combinations of the results will be necessary to prevent child marriage and support married girls.”
  • Impact: A lasting impact is achieved when girls are eventually in the position to choose when and whom to marry or even not to marry at all; it constitutes “a shift in decision-making power to girls and new social norms.”
  • Vision: Girls not Brides does not only aim to end child marriages before the age of 18, but seeks to “ensure that [children] acquire the skills, connections and capacities that child marriage impedes, and have the opportunity and freedom to thrive.” And in order to achieve this, gender equality is essential.

Girls Not Brides underlines that the Theory of Change is not final but is continually evolving just as the field itself evolves.

More information about the Theory of Change on Child Marriage can be found here.