Casey Foundation Africa

What drives child marriage in Uganda?

Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys. In Uganda, child marriage is exacerbated by:

Poverty and lack of opportunities

Girls living in Uganda’s poorest households marry at a younger age than those living in the richest households. Some parents, especially in rural areas, see their daughter as a source of wealth as they can fetch bride price from the husband’s family, while relieving the financial burden on the family. In highly vulnerable households, some Ugandan girls seek marriage to cover basic needs, such as sanitary products.

Level of education

Early marriage and teenage pregnancy are linked to low levels of secondary school retention for girls. Some parents in Uganda feel that educating a girl is a waste of time and resources when she will ultimately marry and gain lifelong security.

Adolescent pregnancy

Adolescent pregnancy precipitates child marriage and is a consequence of it. Uganda has one the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy in the world, which is the result of both consensual and forced sex. Girls who become pregnant while still in school are often forced to drop out. 

Without education, and because pregnancy outside of marriage is stigmatised and associated with embarrassment or disgrace, they and their parents may see marriage as the only option – for both the girl and the boy or man who impregnates her.

Intergenerational and transactional relationships

These are relatively common in Uganda. For some girls, having a man, typically older, who is able to provide food, clothing, school fees and other material goods is seen as desirable and an escape route out of poverty. 

In many cases, these relationships are seen as consensual but in reality, girls may find themselves vulnerable with regard to such relationships. Thus, leading girls to long term arrangements including child marriage and early motherhood.

Traditional harmful practices

Arranged marriages for girls are common, often as a way to consolidate powerful relations among families. Some families marry off their daughters to protect them from early sexual encounters and safeguard the family’s dignity. 

Studies have also found that communities perceived girls to be ready for marriage when they develop breasts or when they have started menstruating. Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) is also considered a sign of readiness for marriage.

Displacement

Child marriage is reportedly more prevalent among those internally displaced and refugees. A 2016 study among internally displaced Ugandans found that child marriage provides families with legal protection from defilement (sex with a girl under 18) which is a crime in Uganda. Within the camps, child marriages are organised in a hasty manner.

Orphanhood

In Uganda, orphaned girls have greater odds of early marriage. 32% of households in Uganda have foster or orphaned children. Caregivers of orphaned or foster children who find it difficult to meet the needs of the family may resort to early marriage to relieve financial pressures. 

Additionally, girls in households headed by children (below age 18) are more vulnerable to being married early than those in households headed by adults.

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