The Law, Child Marriage and the Criminalization of Adolescent Sexuality

Many governments, advocates and others seeking to prevent human rights violations against girls have long believed that legal restrictions are the most effective means of prevention. For example, they seek to curb early, child and forced marriage by establishing laws that outlaw marriage before a certain age—usually 18. But a growing number of feminist scholars and activists are questioning this reliance on punitive legal responses and are documenting the shortcomings and negative consequences of this approach.

AJWS’s research grantee partners have generated evidence, based on their experiences working within local communities, that documents the ways in which criminalization approaches can lead to violations of the rights of the very people—particularly women, girls and young people—they are ostensibly intended to protect. Their findings have implications for governments, donors and advocates—and point to the urgent need for greater investment in more comprehensive and rights-affirming approaches to social change.

AJWS supports research that explores:

  • How laws related to child marriage and adolescent sexuality are implemented and enforced and how they affect girls, boys, and their families and communities
  • Why girls run away to get married against their families’ wishes, and how punitive legal responses cause harm to young lives
  • How legal provisions such as mandatory reporting of sexual activity between consenting adolescents increase taboos about sexuality and prevent young people from accessing essential sexual and reproductive health services, including contraceptives and information about preventing sexually transmitted infections