CONCORD, New Hampshire — Marriage is one of the most well-known institutions in the history of humankind. It is often considered part of a “normal” life. However, for millions of young girls in developing countries, marriage is prison.
Why a prison? Because they marry underage and usually against their will. Here are some statistics to show this:
- “One third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18 and 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15.”
- “In 2012, 70 million women 20-24 around the world had been married before the age of 18.”
- “If present trends continue, 150 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday over the next decade. That’s an average of 15 million girls each year.”
Many of the worst offending countries are concentrated in sub-Saharan and Western Africa — In Niger, 75 percent of girls are married before they are 18. In Chad and the Central African Republic the rate is at 68 percent, in Guinea 63 percent, and in Mozambique 56 percent.
While many countries in Africa have high percentages, adjusted for population size underage marriage is actually most prevalent in South Asia — 66 percent of girls in Bangladesh are married before they are 18, 47 percent in India.
What are the repercussions for girls marrying at such young ages? Numerous. Somewhere around 16 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth every year.
On top of that, 1 million girls under the age of 15 also give birth at least once a year. Often underage marriages and the subsequent pregnancies come from cultural or family pressure.
What can be done to stop this? A study has found that education, and especially books, might be the answer. School supplies given to girls between the ages of 12 and 14 reduced the chance that they would be married at the end of the program by 94 percent.
In slightly older girls – between the ages of 15 and 17 – they were half as likely to be married at the end of the study when their family was given two chickens for each year they kept their daughters in school.
Education certainly seems to be the answer to underage marriages. The International Center for Research on Women found that girls who have achieved a higher level of schooling are less likely to marry young.
In Mozambique, 60 percent of girls without any education are married before they reach the age of 18, while only 10 percent of girls with secondary education and less than 1 percent with tertiary education are married before 18.
Population Council, an organization that “conducts research to address critical health and development issues” has been working toward reducing child marriages in Sub-Saharan Africa. They have found that education is the answer as well – their programs have produced delays in marriage and increased enrollment in school for girls.
Community conversations engaged girls, families and communities in discussions around underage marriages. School supplies were given to families in order for them to overcome economic boundaries and send their daughters to school.
All this reduced the chance that girls would be married at a young age. More education might just be the answer!
– Gregory Baker