Working together to end child marriage. This was one of the main outcome of the recent European Development Days (EDD2018) which took place in Brussels on June 5-6.
In some countries, 40% of girls get married between 10 and 16 years old, while some three-quarters of girls get married before they are 18. Furthermore, 40% of girls have their first child before the age of 19.
Although ending child marriage is one of the Sustainable Development Goals’ key target, slow global progress has being made so far. Some European Commission’s representatives said that the EU is willing to create a symbolic year against child marriage, an issue that affects all areas of development.
Poverty is one of the main reason behind child marriages. Most parents believe they are doing the best thing for their daughters. They fear that having children outside the marriage could put their daughters at risk and it would be hard to support children.
Progress, though, in some countries has been made. In Niger, for instance, birth rate – one of the highest in the world – has been reduced over the last five years, thanks to special programmes designed to reduce child marriage. Successful programmes should be scaled up but additional funding is urgently needed.
Although some progresses, many local authorities find loopholes to get around these laws. In some countries, for example, judges or political leaders can overrule bans on child marriages. A greater effort is needed to ensure that the spirit of the law is enforced.
A multifaceted approach is needed. Investing in girls’ education is essential but it most come together with basic education on reproductive health.
Child marriage is both a cause and a consequence of poor education, particularly for girls. Girls who get married too young are more likely to drop out of school but at the same time, girls who are not in school, or have lower levels of education, are more likely get married in young age. Globally, 131 million girls are out of school girls, but the vast majority are living in regions with the highest child marriage rates: sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Many agree that making the fight against child marriage a priority for the EU would represent a major difference in development policy and it would increase the needed financial resources in the current budget negotiations.
Child marriage in Nepal
Child marriage, although illegal, has been practiced for generations in Nepal. Globally, Nepal has one of the highest rates of child marriage: 37% of Nepali women ages 20-24 years were first married by age 18, and 10% were married by age 15. According to Nepal’s 2011 national census, of the married women who were surveyed, approximately 75% were married before their 20th birthday, and over 100,000 girls were given away in marriage before the age of 10. The Nepalese National Strategy to End Child Marriage, adopted in 2016, is based on six pillars:
- empowerment of girls and adolescents;
- quality education for girls and adolescents;
- engaging boys, adolescents, and men;
- mobilising families and communities;
- access to services;
- strengthening and implementing laws and policies.
Cultural and social pressures force girls to prove their fertility after marriage. In addition, the barriers to contraceptive information and services leave many girls trapped in child marriages. Notably, Nepal has a high incidence of adolescent pregnancy: 40% of married girls ages 15-19 have already given birth to at least one child.
There is strong evidence of the positive effect that education has on delaying marriage for girls. Despite a legal age limit of 18, 41% of girls in Nepal are married before reaching that age – through secret ceremonies conducted in rural regions sometime with local police compliance. In Kapilvastu, an agricultural region, the figure is thought to be almost double that. For these reasons, it is not a surprise to see young women being grandmothers in their 30s. This is a vicious circle: poverty, lack of education, health consequences for early pregnancies for both mothers and babies. In some cases child marriage is a form of “servile marriage” that brings to domestic servitude and greater risk of experiencing spousal violence. A study reveals that 45.2% of men reportedly marry to have support for domestic chores.
Nepal had a widely reported increase of child marriages after the 2015 earthquakes. A marriage in the wake of a natural disaster is perceived as a solution to reduce families’ economic burden and protect girls from any risk of sexual violence caused by instability and devastation.
“Nepal is slowly but surely moving in the right direction, and the government has developed a sound strategy for ending child marriage,” says UNFPA’s Nepal representative. “However, there is a lot left to be done. Keeping girls in school is key to mitigating child marriage. Empowering girls with knowledge – and the confidence which comes with it – is key.”
Helpcode supports the Global Partnership for Education call on governments to allocate 20% of public spending to education. Ending child marriage has a major effect on economic development and could also increase a country’s GDP.
Child marriage and education: key statistics:
Girls with secondary or higher education are 3 times less likely to marry as children compared to girls with no education.
On average, every additional year of schooling reduces the risk of marriage before age 18 by six percentage points.
Economic impact of child marriage and loss of education for girls on labour force participation: key
On average child marriage contributes to losses in earnings for women of 9% across the 15 countries studied.
By ending child marriage, Burkina Faso could create $179 million per year in increased earnings and productivity. Due to their larger populations and role of women in the economy, Bangladesh could create an additional $4.8 billion, and Nigeria an additional $7.6 billion in increased earnings and productivity.
Barriers to girls’ education:
Families don’t see value in educating girls
Inaccessibility of schools
Direct and indirect costs of schooling
Safety concerns for girls
Lack of girl – friendly environment in schools
Low quality education
Addressing child marriage through education: What the evidence shows – The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage