Child marriage – that is, any formal or informal union of a child under the age of 18 – causes devastating health and economic consequences for individuals, families, and societies, particularly in South Asia. Globally, 12 million girls under 18 are married each year, which is about 23 cases every minute. For girls in many disadvantaged families, early marriage is the only option. A recent study reported that in India, about 40% of girls under the age of 18 are married and have children. Thankfully, this rate is reducing, but not fast enough to reach the target of the Sustainable Development Goal to eliminate early and forced marriage by 2030. For the full reference to the research report which is publicly available, see the end of the article.
A lack of education and employment is known to be a significant cause of early marriage and early childbearing. The research findings suggested that secondary school completion reduces early marriage, and is greatly helped by improving family incomes.
The British government has recently recognised this: check out the BBC item on 16 January at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-55680955.
The Wye and Brook India Trust (WBIT) has been supporting the education and employment prospects of poor children in Delhi since 1978. Many girls now attend school who would not otherwise have done so. And boys matter, too!
There are many reasons why early marriage and early childbearing persist in South Asia. Complex marriage laws and customary social pressures, customs, and beliefs encourage parents to marry their young daughters. It can avoid high dowry payments, which increase as girls get older and more educated. The social and economic costs of not marrying off a daughter are perceived to outweigh the benefits. In times of economic stress, marrying daughters can reduce household costs and bring income.
Where improvements for girls were found, the study showed that increasing secondary school completion, defined as completing 10 years of school, explained a large part of the reduction in early marriage and early childbearing. Households in urban slum areas were often worse off in terms of education, wealth, girls’ safety, and living conditions than elsewhere. It is increasingly recognised that there is no single solution to the problems of early marriage and early childbearing, but providing education is the first, foremost and most effective action to take.
The report concludes: ‘When girls marry as children and give birth during their teens, there are devastating health and economic consequences for individuals, families, and societies. Child marriage is a human rights violation and a drain on human capital that the global development community is committed to eradicating, but the reality is that policies and interventions have not been effective enough to accelerate progress… The protective nature of girls’ schooling is clear and efforts to increase higher education among girls need to continue’ (pp12-13).
Please join us in supporting the education of vulnerable girls and boys by setting up a standing order: £10 per month or £120 per year will provide much of the cost for a child to complete one year of schooling. One-off gifts are welcome, and you can also sponsor an individual child to go through school. Please consider a legacy, too.
Contact WBIT at 28 Oxenturn Road, Wye, tel 01233 812496, or email@example.com.
The research referred to above was led by the International Food Policy Research Institute, published in December 2020 in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences and is publicly available. The full reference for the research is:
Scott, S. et al. (2020). Early marriage and early childbearing in South Asia: trends, inequalities, and drivers from 2005 to 2018. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences n/a(n/a) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.14531