Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


Remarks of the UNODC Executive Director
Commission on the Status of Women Side Event: Child, early and forced marriage – preventing forced marriages and empowering girls in an international context

 19 March 2021


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to join Minister Raab and our Austrian partners, at this session of the Commission on the Status of Women, to co-host this important eventon preventing forced marriages and empowering girls.

Women and girls have the right to pursue futures free from violence, coercion and abuse.

The practice of forced marriages is a violation of that basic human right. It is also a practice that feeds into wider cycles of exploitation and violence, compounding the suffering of women and girls who were never given a choice.

Child marriage is very much a form of forced marriage, exploiting those who cannot give consent, and it is recognized as a particularly serious form of violence against children.

Globally, one in every five girls under the age of 18 is married or in a union, and that number rises to 40 percent in the Least Developed Countries.

At the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, our efforts to better understand and address this challenge have revealed a dangerous intersection between different, serious forms of violence against children, including forced marriage, trafficking in persons, and child recruitment by terrorist and violent extremist groups. They have also shed light on underlying risk factors that leave women and girls more exposed.

Forced marriages are often directly linked to financial gain for families or interlocuters.

Women and girls who find themselves in poverty and without access to education and employment are more likely to be victims of such unions, as are those who suffer from disabilities.

Victims of rape and sexual violence are also more likely to be forced to marry their abusers, suffering in silence to uphold discriminatory social norms.

Underreporting of victims persists, leaving too many without the assistance they need. Fear of reprisal, stigmatization, and shame are often the cause, as well as fear of losing children, homes, and livelihoods.

The arrangement of marriages without consent in many cases constitutes trafficking in persons, as defined by the Palermo Protocol.

Women and young girls are recruited or transported, in some instances by organized criminal groups who employ coercion, deception, abuse, and abduction, and reduced to commodities.

According to UNODC’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2020, the value of a woman sold for forced marriage in some regions is equivalent to the price of a few dozen grams of methamphetamine.

Women in such marriages are often subjected to further abuse and exploitation, including physical and sexual violence, forced domestic work, and sometimes even coerced participation in criminal activities.

Conflict situations present their own compounded dangers, particularly to young girls. The rates of child marriage in countries such as Syria and Yemen have increased dramatically in recent years.

UNODC’s research has highlighted how armed groups use forced marriages to reward or attract combatants. The recruitment of young girls in the context of terrorism is also of particular concern, and we have seen terrorist groups such as Dae’sh and Boko Haram trafficking children as brides for their male fighters.

Now vulnerabilities have greatly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis. More than 60 million women have lost their jobs, deepening existing disparities in the labor market. Millions of children have found themselves out of school, with many unable to return.

The economic pressures and desperation heighten the vulnerability of women and children, also leaving them at greater risk of forced and child marriages.

To overcome this complex intersection of challenges, we must adopt a multi-dimensional approach aiming to protect, assist, and empower.

Laws and policies must safeguard women and children and ban child marriage, as well as all harmful practices.

Offences such as trafficking in persons and rape need to be clearly defined in the criminal code, to avoid normalizing abusive behavior and doubling victimization.

Women and girls subjected to violence and discrimination must never be left without help, or too afraid to ask for it. Civil society has a crucial role to play, especially as victims of forced and abusive marriages may turn to them for support.

We need to develop age-appropriate, safe, confidential and disability-accessible programmes for medical, social and psychological support to victims.

We must also pay particular attention to rural areas, where child marriage persists in several countries despite an overall decline in this practice.

UNODC works with Member States to pursue integrated, victim-centred responses against violence and exploitation.

UNODC’s Global Programme to End Violence against Children is active in over 40 countries, and our Office supports governments in combating trafficking in persons, gender-based violence and child recruitment by terrorist and violent extremist groups, and in strengthening access to justice and essential services.

We also promote the application of the UN Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Children in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Beyond the immediate challenges, we also need to tackle root causes by empowering women and girls through education, employment, and healthcare. When women occupy an equal place in society, they are inherently better protected against exploitation and abuse.

This event on the margins of this session of the Commission on the Status of Women offers an important and needed opportunity to raise awareness of the problem, and highlight national, regional and global responses needed to more effectively prevent forced marriages.

The Sustainable Development Goals aim to end to all forms of violence and harmful practices against women and children, including trafficking and exploitation, as well as child, early, and forced marriage.

In this Decade of Action, we must commit to leaving no one behind, and strengthen collective efforts to give women and girls control of their lives and their futures.

Thank you.