Ending Child Marriage, Promoting Girls’ Education

Occasionally, I reproduce on this blog posts that I published elsewhere. As basic education is one of the areas of focus of  the Rotary Foundation, some of you may be interested in a study on the economic impacts of child marriage, including on girls’ education, that I recently completed at the World Bank. The study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, and the Global Partnership for Education, and done in partnership with the International Center for Research on Women. A post on the relationship between child marriage and girls’ education that appeared yesterday on the blog of the Global Partnership for Education is reproduced below together with links to related publications (picture below credited to the World Bank).


Children in a temporary school in Goucheme Niger,  © Stephan Gladieu / World Bank

Post published with the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) on June 29, 2017:

Every day, 41,000 girls marry before they are 18 years old. That’s 15 million girls every year. What are the economic impacts and costs of child marriage, and how does the practice relate to girls’ educational attainment?

A new study on the economic impacts of child marriage by the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) suggests that the negative impacts of child marriage on a wide range of development outcomes are large. This is the case not only for child brides, but also for their children and for societies overall. The study benefited from support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, and the Global Partnership for Education.

Child marriage leads to population growth and entrenched poverty

Detailed analysis was carried for 15 countries, with extrapolations done for some of the impacts and costs of child marriage for more than 100 developing countries. Globally, between now and 2030, child marriage is expected to cost the equivalent of trillions of dollars to populations in the developing world.

The largest impacts in terms of economic costs are through fertility and population growth. Child marriage leads girls to have children earlier and more children over their lifetime. This in turns reduces the ability of households to meet their basic needs, and thereby contributes to poverty. Ending child marriage would generate large welfare benefits through a reduction in population growth, helping to usher in the demographic dividend.

Early marriage makes completing education almost impossible for girls

The relationship between child marriage and educational attainment for girls is also strong. In most developing countries, it is extremely difficult for girls to remain in school once they get married.

As a result, child marriage reduces the likelihood that girls will complete their secondary education. This emerges clearly from questions asked to parents in household surveys as to why their daughters dropped out of school. Marriage is often one of the main, if not the main reason, that adolescent girls drop out of school.

A similar conclusion is reached when modelling the relationship between child marriage and educational attainment econometrically. The effects are large. Every year that a girl marries early (i.e., before 18) is associated with a reduction in the likelihood of completing secondary school of typically four to 10 percentage points, depending on the country or region. This leads to lower earnings for child brides in adulthood since a lack of education prevents them from getting good jobs. In addition, child marriage also reduces education prospects for the children of child brides by curtailing their mother’s education.

The good news is that conversely, keeping girls in school is one of the best ways to delay marriage. This finding emerges from the literature on interventions that have proven successful in delaying the age at first marriage. It also emerges from the empirical estimations conducted for the study. The estimates suggest that across the 15 countries for which the empirical work was carried, each year of additional secondary education reduces the likelihood for girls of marrying as a child and of having a first child before the age of 18 by five to six percentage points on average.

Child marriage must end

The study provides a clear economic rationale for ending child marriage. Child marriage is not only a social issue with potentially dramatic consequences for child brides and their children. It is also an economic issue that affects the ability of countries to grow and reduce poverty. The study also suggests how ending child marriage can be done: by keeping girls in school.

What’s next? With support from GPE, two additional studies are being prepared by the World Bank team. The first study will estimate the benefits from investments in girls’ education using an approach similar to that used for the estimation of the economic costs of child marriage.

The second study will look more broadly at the role that human capital plays in the changing Wealth of Nations. Preliminary findings suggest that human capital is the largest component of the Wealth of Nations, ahead of produced and natural capital.

Together, it is hoped that these three studies on (1) the economic impacts of child marriage, (2) the benefits of investments in girls’ education, and (3) human capital and the Wealth of Nations will help advocate for increased investments in education.

For more information:

Global Report

Project brief on educational attainment


All publications on the costs of child marriage

Child Marriage: A Persistent Hurdle to Health and Prosperity

Yesterday, on October 11, the world marked the International Day of the Girl Child. While the day is an opportunity to advocate for girls’ rights across many sectors, one persistent, pernicious issue deserves renewed attention:  the high prevalence of child marriage. This is an issue of importance for governments, but also for NGOs, including service club organizations such as Rotary that are investing substantially in education and health.

Child marriage

Every year, 15 million girls marry before the age of 18. Child marriage is associated with higher health risks for these girls and their children. It also contributes to high population growth, thereby threatening access of households to the often scarce resources they need to thrive, and putting pressures on government budgets to deliver quality services.

The elimination of child, early and forced marriage is now part of the Sustainable Development Goals under Target 5 – achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. This is good news. But for governments, NGOs, and communities to take the challenge of the elimination of child marriage seriously, more evidence is needed on the negative impacts of child marriage, as well as what works to eliminate the practice.

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the World Bank are collaborating in an innovative, three-year research project to do just that. The project involves the most extensive data analysis – and for three countries, new data collection – undertaken so far to better understand and measure the economic costs of child marriage. Funding for the project is provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation.

A brief on selected preliminary results from the analysis was shared at a side event at the United Nations General Assembly last month. It suggests that child marriage has large negative effects on population, health, and nutrition.

Fertility and Population Growth

The number of children a woman has over her lifetime has significant impacts on her health, her ability to engage in activities outside of the household, and the poverty level of her household. Analysis of Demographic and Health Surveys for a half dozen countries suggests large impacts of child marriage on the number of live births for a woman over her lifetime. In Nigeria, for example, girls who married at age 12 have a number of births higher by 30% on average than women who married after the age of 18. Even marrying at age 17, rather than 18, increases the number of births by 18%.

On average, women marrying as children have 1.4 more children over their lifetime than if they marry after the age of 18. In some countries such as Egypt, the impact is smaller, but in other countries such as Ethiopia, it is larger.

Because girls who marry early have a higher number of births over their lifetime, child marriage contributes to higher population growth. Estimates suggest that in countries with a high incidence of child marriage, such as Niger, annual rates of population growth could be reduced substantially each year if child marriage were eliminated, and there were no increases in births outside of marriage by adolescent girls. The implications of these changes at the aggregate level for both government and private expenditures would be significant, placing less demand on often over-stretched services and infrastructure, as well as government and private budgets, and generating a potentially large “demographic dividend.”

Under-Five Mortality and Malnutrition

Child marriage increases the risk of maternal and under-five mortality and morbidity, leading to significant social and economic impacts from the individual level  to the national level. Analysis of Demographic and Health Surveys suggests that the risk of death before age five for children increases substantially when the child is born to a mother below 18 years of age, as compared to a child with similar characteristics born to an older mother. Delaying marriage therefore would help reduce infant and child mortality.

Children born to child brides also have a higher risk of malnutrition than children born to older mothers — a significant barrier to the health of the child, their educational prospects, and, in the longer term, their contribution to household and national economies through their labor. Analysis based on Demographic and Health Surveys suggests that children born from child brides have higher risks of stunting than children born from mothers older than 18, with additional risks resulting from a higher likelihood of low birthweight. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, the effect is estimated at seven percentage points. At the aggregate level, this could have significant effects for countries seeking to enhance the human capacity and health of their population.

Multiple Impacts

It is often said that the process of development is multidimensional, with vulnerabilities in some areas affecting other areas. Child marriage is a perfect example of this, since it affects so many areas in the lives of the girls who marry early, their children, and their communities. This is true for health, nutrition, and population, but also for education, labor force participation and earnings, decision-making ability within the household, and even the risk of gender-based violence. As a result, the economic impacts and associated costs of child marriage are large and far-reaching.

Results from joint ICRW-World Bank research on this issue will be updated on the project website as they become available. A launch event for sharing the main results from the first phase of the research is planned for the second half of November 2015 at the World Bank.

This post is reproduced with minor changes from a post by the author on the World Bank’s Investing in Health blog available at http://blogs.worldbank.org/health/.

Ending Violence against Women

by Quentin Wodon

Today, November 25, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. According to the United Nations, more than a third of women and girls worldwide experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. In some countries the proportion is at two thirds. More than 130 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation. Child marriage is even more pervasive, with 700 million women living today who married as children. In Africa and South Asia, close to half of girls still marry before the age of 18. These practices are declining, but only slowly.

The widespread negative effects of violence against women have been documented, including in the recent World Bank report Voice and Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity. Complications related to pregnancy and childbirth lead 70,000 adolescent girls to die each year according to UNFPA’s State of the World Population report.

The consequences of child marriage, early pregnancy, and violence against women also affect future generations, including the children of girls who marry early and thereby have to curtail their own education. Lower education attainment for mothers has a wide range of potential negative effects for their children. These and other effects are documented not only in the World Bank report just mentioned, but also in other studies, including a study by UNFPA on child marriage.

The good news is that a clear and stronger consensus is emerging to eliminate those practices. On Friday November 21, the human rights committee of the 193-nation General Assembly adopted by consensus (without needing a vote) a resolution urging all states to take the necessary steps to end child, early and forced marriage. Such steps include adopting and enforcing laws banning child marriage, but they should also include providing support and incentives to eliminate the practice.

A total of 118 countries sponsored the resolution, including some of the countries with the highest incidence of child marriage (such as Mali, Ethiopia and the Central African Republic). The resolution will be presented to the full General Assembly for formal adoption in December. While such resolutions are not legally binding, they help in increasing pressure on governments to take concrete measures to eliminate the practice.

Earlier this year, the U.K. government and UNICEF jointly hosted the first Girl Summit in July to mobilize efforts to end child, early, and forced marriage as well as female genital mutilation. At the summit a new three year $4.2 million research effort was announced to better estimate the economist cost of child marriage. Funding is provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. The research effort is being led jointly by the International Centre for Research on Women and the World Bank’s Education Global Practice.

The objective of this research effort is to generate new global, regional and country evidence on the impact of child marriage and especially its associated economic costs. The first phase of the research effort will document the various pathways through which child marriage affects girls, their children and families, their communities, and societies at large. Existing household surveys will be used to measure the impact of child marriage on a range of outcomes and the costs associated with those impacts. In the second phase that will start in July 2015, in-depth data collection and analysis will be carried in three countries to validate the models developed in the first phase. The third phase will start in July 2016 and focus on capacity building and advocacy.

The hope is that this research will inform policymakers not only about the (potentially large) cost of child marriage, but also about the types of interventions that could help eliminate the practice.

Note: This post is reproduced with minor modifications from a post by the author published today on the World Bank’s Let’s Talk Development blog at https://blogs.worldbank.org/developmenttalk/


Eliminating Child Marriage to Boost Girls’ Education

by Quentin Wodon

Child marriage in developing countries remains pervasive. One-third of girls are married before age 18. That’s 39,000 girls each day, with 1 in 9 marrying before age 15. Among countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage, girls with three years of schooling or less are up to six times more likely to marry young than girls with secondary education. The causality runs both ways: child marriage reduces educational attainment, and, conversely, girls with less access to quality education are more likely to marry early.

Child marriage often constitutes a violation of the rights of girls who are encouraged or even forced to marry early. This practice is driven by poverty, cultural and social norms, and pervasive discrimination against girls. Early marriage forces girls into adulthood and, frequently, motherhood before they are emotionally or physically mature. It profoundly affects a girl’s life, not only by substantially lowering her education prospects, but also by causing health complications and harming psychological well-being.

These messages are at the core of a new World Bank Group report titled Voice and Agency: Empowering women and girls for shared prosperityOn the link between child marriage and education, the Voice and Agency report relies in part on results from a forthcoming World Bank study on child marriage and education. The study shows that the practice of child marriage remains highly prevalent around the world and is decreasing only slowly, not only in terms of the incidence of child marriage, but also in terms of measures such as the child marriage gap, which take into account how young girls are when they marry.

The study also shows that child marriage has a large negative effect on education attainment. Two approaches have been used to estimate this effect. The first relies on reasons mentioned by parents in surveys for why their children have dropped out of school. These studies suggest that child marriage may account in some countries for 10-20% of drop-outs among girls at the secondary level. The second approach relies on econometric techniques to jointly model the decisions to marry and go to school. These studies suggest that each additional year of delay in the age of (child) marriage may increase schooling by 0.22 years, the likelihood of literacy of 5.6 percentage points, and the likelihood of secondary school completion by 6.5 percentage points.

Why does child marriage remain so prevalent in many countries?

The incidence of child marriage varies substantially between regions and countries. Several socio-cultural factors appear to contribute to the persistence of the practice. Qualitative and survey data suggest that the root causes of child marriage include gender roles and social expectations, prevailing interpretations of faith traditions (whether those are correct or not – these interpretations are often not the same everywhere), and the fear of pregnancy before marriage.

Yet there are also major differences between areas within countries in the incidence of child marriage and the reasons for its persistence. This implies that policies and programs aiming to eliminate or curb the practice must adapt to local circumstances. The role of local traditional and religious leaders matters here, since these leaders are often influential in the lives of the communities, and their spiritual and moral guidance has a profound effect on daily life.

What can be done to curb this practice?

In many countries, laws have been adopted to prevent marriage below 18 years of age, but they are often not well-enforced. Laws are needed, but they are not enough. Interventions to reduce the cost of schooling and improve school quality are also required. Apart from cultural and religious factors, the cost of schooling and the poor quality of secondary education, together with limited employment prospects for girls, are among the factors that lead to child marriage.

Cash transfers may make schooling more affordable for girls and thereby reduce child marriage indirectly through their effect on schooling. Other education interventions—such as building secondary schools to reduce the distance to schools or providing public transportation to schools, as well as improving the quality of education—may also have beneficial indirect effects on child marriage.

In addition, some states and countries have piloted cash or in-kind transfers conditional on not getting married, with positive impacts. In Ethiopia the Berhane Hewan program provides income-earning projects for families sending their daughters to school. A pregnant ewe is presented to the girl and her family at graduation. In the state of Haryana in India the program Apni Beti Apna Dhan (Our Daughter, Our Wealth) provides financial incentives to parents if their daughter remains unmarried until age 18. Incentives include an immediate cash grant upon birth and a long-term savings bond redeemable on the girl’s 18th birthday, with additional bonuses for education.

Better and safer job opportunities for girls may also reduce child marriage substantially, as may better access to basic infrastructure (water, electricity), which frees up time spent doing domestic chores and thereby facilitates schooling. But again, recognizing that traditions and culture play an important role in the persistence of the practice, and enabling traditional and faith leaders to be part of the discussion, are also crucial. Overall, eliminating child marriage truly requires multi-sectoral policies that go beyond education alone. Still, focusing on education is a great start.

Note: this post is reproduced with minor changes from a post on the Education for Global Development blog of the World Bank available at http://blogs.worldbank.org/education/