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Education is the key to ending child marriage, says World Bank

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Children who are prevented from attending school also miss out on other forms of vital knowledge, including about health issues such as HIV/AIDS. Source: Shutterstock

Providing quality education and employment opportunities to girls is a vital factor in ending child marriage, according to a research report released by the World Bank.

The report, which focuses on the Economic Impacts of Child Marriage, illustrates the devastating impact of child marriage upon a wide range of social indicators including health, educational and livelihoods. It argues that providing quality primary education is the key to reducing its prevalence.

Data from the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) for about 60 countries mainly in Africa and Asia shows that while instances of child marriage have declined over the past 30 years, there hasn’t been a significant drop.

Prevalence of the practice – which the World Bank defines as “a marriage or union taking place before the age of 18” – in many countries thus remains high. It is more likely to occur in poorer communities and has a devastating economic impact.

While “primary motivation for ending the practice should be the fact that it may lead to substantial risks and suffering for the girls who marry early and their children,” says the report, child marriage also has dire consequences for educational and economic outcomes in the societies in which it takes place.

Ending child marriage has been identified by the international community as a target under the Sustainable Development Goals.

DHS data shows that in around 25 countries, more than one in three women aged 18-22 who were married had done so before they had come of age.

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“When mothers are less educated, household welfare is often reduced,” says the World Bank. Welfare benefits for ending child marriage globally are estimated at US$22 billion in 2015 and US$566 billion in 2030 – particularly by reducing early childbirth and stunted population growth.

The World Bank’s report highlights a study from 2016 which showed interventions promoting education, including cash transfers, school vouchers, free school uniforms, reductions in school fees, teacher training, and life skills curricula were among the most likely to work.

These interventions are already being put in place by the World Bank, Unicef and the UN Population Fund in various countries. The World Bank states that interventions must “be adapted to country context, but they also need to target specific groups in order to be effective.”

In some countries, each year of secondary education for girls under 18 could reduce their likelihood of early marriage by five percent or more.

The expected costs of governments investing more in public primary and secondary schools would “typically be small in comparison to the expected benefits from better educational attainment for girls.”

Children who are prevented from attending school also miss out on other forms of vital knowledge, including about health issues such as HIV/AIDS.

Because child marriage and early pregnancy stunts the level of educational attainment a female is able to achieve, it ultimately has a huge impact upon their lifetime expected earnings.

In 15 countries where child marriage is prevalent, it could lead to productive gains of US$26 billion, says the report. It would also help to prevent declining rates of population growth in affected countries.

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