Ending Child Marriage

ISSUE IN FOCUS Child marriage is any formal or informal union where one or both of the parties are under 18 years old, according to Girls Not Brides. Early and forced marriage happens across countries, cultures and religions. Each year, 12 million girls are married before they turn 18. It is estimated that 650 million women alive today were married as girls. Child brides are often pulled out of school and are at a greater risk of violence, being trapped in poverty and serious health complications or even death due to early pregnancy. Globally, one in five girls were married before age 18. About 250 million women were married before age 15. Girls with no education are three times as likely to marry by 18 as those with a secondary or higher education. 90% of adolescent pregnancies in the developing world are to girls who are already married. Girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are twice as likely to die in childbirth as women in their 20s, and newborn children of younger mothers face greater risks of dying. Early marriage doubles a teenager’s chances of living in poverty and triples the likelihood she will be beaten by her spouse, compared to married adults. ZONTA IN ACTION Child marriage directly hinders eight of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. While the prevalence of child marriage is declining, efforts to address this human rights violation must be significantly scaled up. At this rate, it would take another 50 years to eliminate child marriage worldwide. Zonta International has partnered with UNICEF USA and UNFPA to support the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage , which is working to achieve lasting change on a significant scale by tackling the human rights violation in a dozen of the most high-prevalence or high-burden countries. Since the program’s launch in 2016, more than 7.7 million adolescent girls and more than 4.2 million community members have been reached with information, skills and services. In March 2020, the Global Programme kicked off Phase II. By 2023, the program plans to reach more than 14 million adolescent girls across 12 countries in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia with direct services. In addition to its support of the Global Programme, Zonta has participated in advocacy efforts around the world to shine a light on child marriage through the Zonta Says NO to Violence Against Women campaign and other partnerships and events. The Zonta USA Caucus, a member of the National Coalition to End Child Marriage in the United States, is helping thousands of Zonta members and other supporters in the U.S. speak out against child marriage in the United States. In April 2020, the Zonta USA Caucus, in partnership with UNICEF USA, launched a yearlong national Public Service Announcement billboard campaign to stop child marriages in the United States. The billboards direct people to stopchildmarriages.org, which provides facts about child marriage in the United States and allows users to call on their state representative and state senator to support legislation to end child marriage with zero exceptions in their state. Additionally, clubs around the world—from the Philippines to Austria—are holding events to create awareness of early and forced marriage. With our international project to end child marriage and advocacy efforts from members around the world, Zonta is actively working to put an end to this human rights violation.

Ending Gender-Based Violence


Gender-based violence, or violence against women and girls, is a severe violation of human rights. Violence not only negatively affects women; it also affects their families, communities and countries. It knows no national or cultural barriers; it takes place at home, in the workplace and in open spaces, and affects millions of women and girls in peacetime and in conflict. Gender-based violence includes psychological, physical and sexual violence, and harmful practices such as intimate partner violence, sexual violence and harassment, child marriage, female genital mutilation and human trafficking, according to UN Women.

  • 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • 30% of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner.
  • 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.
  • The first sexual experience of some 30 percent of women was forced. 45% of those under 15 at the time of their sexual initiation report the experience was forced.
  • Children who grow up in families where there is violence may suffer a range of behavioral and emotional disturbances. These can also be associated with perpetrating or experiencing violence later in life.


Zonta International envisions a world in which no woman lives in fear of violence. For 100 years, we have contributed to help achieve a world free of violence against women and girls through service and advocacy. Though many countries have laws against domestic violence, sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence, there are challenges in implementing these laws.

We have a history of partnering with United Nations agencies or recognized NGOs on programs that promote and protect the human rights of all women and girls and reduce the incidence of violence. Zonta International currently supports the Global Programme to End Child Marriage, which brings together governments, civil society, families and young people in a collective effort to prevent girls from marrying too young and to support those already married as girls. Read more about the projects we have supported through the Zonta International Strategies to end Violence Against Women program.

Our ongoing advocacy impact is built around the Zonta Says NO to Violence Against Women advocacy campaign. Launched in 2012, the campaign has raised awareness of the global pandemic of women’s rights violations and has united Zonta clubs worldwide in conducting impactful advocacy actions to fight violence against women and gender inequality.

During the 16 Days of Activism, 25 November-10 December, all Zonta clubs and districts are encouraged to take part in the Zonta Says NO to Violence Against Women campaign and to take local, national and international actions to influence the making and implementation of laws, as well as changing gender-based attitudes and behaviors to end violence against women.

Throughout the year, we  encourage our members to take advocacy actions that work to promote the human rights of women, promote Sustainable Development Goal No. 5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” and end violence against women and girls.

In addition, the Zonta USA Advocacy Action Center is a tool for our members in the United States and other individuals who share our commitment to gender equality to take action to improve the lives of women and girls. U.S. residents are invited to join more than 8,000 advocates across the nation to fight for legislation to address issues such as child marriage, Title IX and sexual assault on college and university campuses.