This analysis of trends in media coverage of child, early and forced marriage is organized like two earlier reports in 2013 and 2015: around the formula of what journalists refer to as the Five Ws: Who, What, When, Where and Why, plus How.

In summary:


The groups in the news have stayed relatively constant over the past five years. The United Nations and its agencies UNICEF and UNFPA were mentioned more than other groups. Girls Not Brides jumped to #4 in 2018 from #11 in 2013, and Unchained at Last made the top ten list – a big jump from #20 in 2014.


The issues in the news associated with child marriage are more diverse than in the past. Edu- cation (42 percent) and health (39 percent) continued to be the top issues mentioned in media coverage. Since 2013, there have been significant increases in references to “police,” in large part due to regular cov- erage, especially in India, of police involvement in stopping child marriages. The major shifts also includ- ed a 10 percent increase in stories with references to health, violence, human rights, police, pregnancy and poverty. Stories with references to pregnancy more than quadrupled, from 6 to 26 percent.


The countries mentioned in the coverage remained about the same. Within the nearly 5,000 stories published in 2017 and again in 2018 media around the world, the most references were about India (16 percent of stories) and Pakistan (12 percent). India has an especially large number of media out- lets and was often referenced in global media. Coverage over the past five years in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and South Sudan fluctuated according to whether these countries were spotlighted for wars, terrorism, elections, parliamentary upheavals or other breaking news stories.


The period covered in this report is 2017 and 2018. It is the third in a series that started with a baseline media analysis in 2013 and another in 2015. This 2018 quantitative review found 4,977 stories of more than 50 words, down from the more than 6,000 stories in both 2013 and 2014. For the qualitative section of this report, 445 individual news stories of 500 words or more were read, analyzed and coded to track additional trends. These stories were from LexisNexis database of 2,300 media outlets worldwide and a regular Google featured search terms, child and early marriage.

How and Why

The quality of coverage improved. While the number of stories specifically on child marriage was about the same over the past few years, those published in 2017-18 were more notable in featuring the girls themselves and the campaigns to help them.

Fully 80 percent of the child marriage stories done in 2017 had a hopeful tone likely leaving readers pos- itive about possibilities for ending child marriage. Forty-two percent of these stories described successful projects and solutions. This is up dramatically from the 9 percent that mentioned solutions in 2013, a five-fold rise.

Only 12 percent of the stories in 2017 focused exclusively on the problem or its victims, as compared to 37 percent in 2013. This is real progress. Grim tales with overwhelming problems too big to solve tend to discourage reader/viewer engagement as shown by earlier research by the Aspen Institute and other messaging projects.

A number of the positive stories spotlighted involvement by religious and traditional leaders who spoke out against child marriage, usually in the context of African Union, United Nations or UNFPA meetings. First Ladies, celebrities and royalty were notably more outspoken as well.

Overall, the survey found fewer items in 2017 about global aspects of the issues. Most were based on a 2017 World Bank/ICRW report, The Economic Impact of Child Marriage, which generated global atten- tion and dozens of stories spotlighting individual countries.

Coverage in the United States focused mostly on state legislative debates on measures to set a legal age for marriage. Many stories noted that the causes of child marriage are very different in the United States than for girls elsewhere in the world.

It is interesting that the underlying causes of child marriages were not discussed in all stories. About 70 percent named a cause while 80 percent looked more at the negative results for the girls and their societ- ies. Stories that included causes mentioned more often issues of cultural norms, dowry demands, poverty, sexism and anxiety over family honor. A handful of stories described backlash against the drive to end child marriage, but the overwhelming majority were favorable to the movement.


As with earlier reports, this one suggests ways to expand and improve media coverage through communications strategies to advance advocacy and policy work. Ten recommendations emphasize the importance of making a special effort to include the voices of girls and young people in stories; to ensure that the important roles of parents are highlighted; to develop more consistent language on the underlying factors contributing to child marriage; to disseminate positive news stories, especially to elected officials and policy makers; and to prepare in advance responses to stories that could create a backlash around controversial cases.

For this report, 445 individual news stories of over 500 words and published in 2017, were read, analyzed and coded to track trends and compare to earlier reviews. In 2018, there were 2,300 media in the Lex- isNexis database which were the focus of the quantitative assessment. In addition, 2018 stories of 500+ words were scanned and tracked but not coded.