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/.

Water and Sanitation for Health: Why Is Progress Slow?

by Quentin Wodon and Clarence Tsimpo

Today is World Habitat Day. Created almost 30 years ago, the day promotes adequate shelter for all. Why should this be mentioned in a blog on investing in health? Because adequate shelter, including access to safe water and sanitation, is essential for health. Several million people, many of them chidren, die from diarrheal diseases every year. Many of these deaths can be attributed to unsafe water, poor sanitation and poor hygiene.
Hand washing in practice

Given the importance of water and sanitation for well-being and health, one would hope to see rapid progress in access, but this is not the case. Trends in coverage of piped water and sanitation prepared for a World Bank study on Africa’s infrastructure a few years ago suggest stagnant rates (more progress is being achieved for electricity, and course, cell phones). Water networks are expanding, and latrines are being built, but too often this only enables countries to keep up with pressure of population growth and the reduction in household size (the smaller the average household is, the more households need to be served for any given population).

Uganda is a good example. Despite rapid growth in the water network in recent years, on a small minority (7%) of households had access to piped water in the latest survey for 2012/13. Under usual definitions from the Joint Monitoring Program of the World Health Organization (WHO), three in four households have access to an improved water source, but some of the sources imply out-of-pocket costs or opportunity costs for the time needed to reach the source. The situation is similar in many other low-income countries.

Why is progress slow? Apart from increasing demand, findings from qualitative fieldwork suggest that supply factors are also at play. In the case of water, these include lack of infrastructure functionality(facilities may notbe working properly, even shortly after being installed), lack of local responsibility (poor leadership may hinder investments in water supply or leadto lack of maintenance) and scarcity (in some communities, water is simply not easily available).These factors tend to be organizational in nature, or physical in the case of water scarcity. But in addition, one should not underestimate the role of culture, tradition, and behaviors.

For example, households know that boiling water is one of the best ways to make it safe. But a minority (less than 40%, according to the latest survey) do it. A few quotes from qualitative fieldwork illustrate why: “We do not have time to boil this water because of the demanding household chores. We feel it is a waste of time since this water looks clean.”“We are aware this water is bad, but it takes a long time to bring the water to boil and firewood has become scarce.”“I am about 57 years old and I have been living on un-boiled water without falling sick. What matters to us is for the government to expandthe availability of water points, not to tell us to boil the water.”

Adequate sanitation is also essential for health. Yet again, in many low-income countries, only a small minority of households has access to improved sanitation. Part of this may be due to a low priority assigned to sanitation in terms of public funding. But part of it is also due to cultural and traditional norms, as well as lack of income or time. Poor terrain or soil type and a lack of land to build latrines also play a role in some areas.

When public latrines are available, there is often a consensus on charginguser fees to ensure maintenance, but enforcement is weak. The same is true for by-laws in areasrequiring households to build their own latrines, which are often expensive to build, at least for the poor.

Focus group participants were asked why they pay for cell phones but not for latrines. They responded that latrines have a much larger one-time cost, but also that having a cell phone is a sign of modernity and important for one’s status in communities. Clearly, more needs to be done to convince households of the importance of latrines, for example through sanitation marketing campaigns.

Finally, in terms of health benefits, there is perhaps no more cost-effective intervention that the promotion of hand washing, but only a small minority of Uganda’s households (less than one in ten) has a facility to wash hands with both soap and water. Information campaigns are held, but, as aparticipant in focus groups noted, “many of the community members do not attend them, saying that these trainings are a waste of time.”

Sometimes even children contribute to low uptake of the practice: “We used to have hand washing utensils, but the children would play with them and waste the water, so we gave up”. More fundamentally, local leadershipappears to be one of the keys: “Local leaders have campaigned, but there is poor adoption, because hand washing is viewed as a very strange practice to the local culture. Local leaders themselves are not visibly seen practicing hand washing… You cannot simply continue telling people about what they should do, but do not see you doing!”

Studies from the Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program suggest that the cost of lack of sanitation is high. As in other low-income countries, Uganda has invested over the years in safe water and sanitation. But the constraints faced by households and communities are complex. The qualitative work implemented in 14 districts suggests that solutions often must be context- and community-specific. This may not lead to cookie-cutter solutions, but it is important to document precisely because of the variety of local circumstances.

Note: This post is reproduced with minor modifications from a post in October 2014 on the Investing in Health blog at the World Bank, available at http://blogs.worldbank.org/health/