Today, October 11, the world marks the International Day of the Girl Child. While the day is an opportunity to advocate for girls’ rights across many sectors, one persistent issue deserves renewed attention: the high prevalence of 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, nongovernmental organizations (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 3 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.
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.
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.