Policy Brief

Adapting to COVID-19: Pivoting the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage to respond to the pandemic

Publication Year:
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-Being
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


The health, social, political and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are disproportionately affecting girls and women by exacerbating existing systemic gender inequalities at all levels.1 This has potential implications for the incidence of child marriage. COVID-19 also has immediate and longer-term implications for the implementation of the United Nations Population Fund United Nations Children’s Fund (UNFPA-UNICEF) Global Programme to End Child Marriage (referred to as the Global Programme). This document provides a summary of: the impact of the pandemic on the work of the programme; the steps taken to overcome the challenges; and the leverage opportunities to end child marriage under the current conditions (see Table 1).









Examples and evidence presented in this note are based on:

  • Global Programme sources of information: webinars; networks of organizations, civil society organizations, academics and consultants; research reports (e.g., Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence [GAGE] research in Ethiopia); U-report; Twitter chats; etc. Most of the available information is in English.
  • Programme and research efforts of other organizations, including the Population Council, GAGE, Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages, Childline India and other national actors.


While it is too early to assess the full impact of COVID-19 on adolescent girls, eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it is becoming clear that many predictions on the impact of the pandemic on adolescent girls and young women are likely to be confirmed. According to global estimates by UNFPA, the COVID-19 pandemic may result in 13 million extra child marriages in the years immediately following the crisis, with at least 4 million more girls married in the next two years, as family livelihoods evaporate and economic crises ensue, pushing families to identify other forms of income that harm children. New analysis released by UNICEF also shows that the number of children living in poor households could increase by 15 per cent by the end of 2020 as a result of the global pandemic, with nearly two thirds of these households in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.


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