AIDS is now the number-one killer of adolescents in Africa. What is more worrying is that seven of every 10 new infections of HIV among adolescents are girls, which shows how vulnerable girls are to acquiring HIV. Similar socioeconomic factors drive both HIV and child marriage, but very few studies have shown the causal effects and links between the two.
This desk review examines some of the existing literature to highlight what is known about the links between child marriage and HIV, and spotlights opportunities for further action. Very few studies have explicitly explored the two phenomena. Given recent increases in the number of adolescent girls who are HIV-positive and the high numbers and rates of child marriage in countries with high HIV prevalence, the data do suggest a correlation between ending child marriage and stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS.
This review argues that gender, gender relations and womens empowerment play a significant role in linking child marriage and HIV. When girls marry young, usually to older men, they are vulnerable to gender-based disadvantages. The imbalance of power in a child marriage significantly erodes a girls control of her body and her social and economic potential.
Transmission, spread and control of HIV hinges on improving gender relations, and this may be even truer with child marriage. Fundamentally, child marriage is a construct and a result of gender imbalances.