DURBAN – At the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, Girls Not Brides is calling for a joined up approach to tackle HIV, which includes child brides and those at risk of child marriage. To raise awareness of the links between HIV and child marriage, Girls Not Brides is hosting an expert panel discussion at Durban tomorrow moderated by Mabel van Oranje, Board Chair of Girls Not Brides.

In 2014, more than 5,000 girls and young women were infected with HIV every week; the vast majority in southern Africa. AIDS is now the leading cause of death among adolescents (aged 10–19) in Africa and the second most common cause of death among adolescents globally. Across the world, 15 million girls are married each year before the age of 18. Based on the research available, anecdotal evidence and from what has been learnt from HIV programming for adolescent girls, child marriage can increase the risk of girls’ exposure to HIV.

Panel moderator Mabel van Oranje said: “One out of every 5 new HIV infections is in adolescent girls and young women. It is high time that we recognise adolescent girls as a most-at-risk population and that they get prioritised in HIV programming. I fear that it will not be possible to reach the ambitious HIV reduction targets without ending child marriage. Moreover, we owe it to these girls to protect them from child marriage and HIV infection, so that they can live healthy lives, be educated and reach their full potential.”  

The expert panel: ‘We must not fail girls again: linkages between child marriage, HIV and adolescent girls’ will take place on Wednesday 20 July and bring together HIV and child marriage experts. Ambassador-at-Large, Deborah Brix, M.D. U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy will be speaking along with Dr. Mark Dybul, Executive Director Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Dr. Sheila Tlou, Director UNAIDS Regional Support Team for East and Southern Africa. Also on the panel is Julia Omondi, a community health and development worker and Kenyan youth advocate from the 3E project (Engagement + Empowerment = Equality).

Mabel van Oranje went on to stress: “Child brides are at a relatively high risk of HIV infection for a variety of reasons, including their young age and physical immaturity, their limited power to negotiate safe sex and their potential exposure to intimate partner violence. The older husbands of child brides have often had previous sexual partners, which can increase child brides’ lifetime risk of HIV infection. Worryingly, girls at risk of early marriage and child brides are often isolated, hard to reach and have limited access to sexual, reproductive and HIV information and services. This further increases their risk of being infected with HIV.”

At Durban, Girls Not Brides will be distributing their new briefing paper: ’Child marriage and HIV: a relationship ignored for too long’ which outlines how these two issues are interlinked and identifies three key recommendations that need to be undertaken. There needs to be more research on the links between child marriage and HIV to better understand the relationship; child brides need to be specifically targeted with HIV information and services so they know how to protect themselves and can get better access to services; and last, but by no means least, HIV programming needs to be linked with multi-sectoral national initiatives to end child marriage.                                                                                           


Contact Maryam Mohsin, Communications Officer, Girls Not Brides: / +44 7436 095435

About Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage 

Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 600 civil society organisations from over 80 countries united by a commitment to work in partnership to end child marriage and enable girls to fulfil their potential. In consultation with more than 150 members, partners and experts, Girls Not Brides created a common Theory of Change, which outlines the range of approaches needed to end child marriage.

Media resources

Join The Conversation