Low-cost interventions to keep vulnerable girls in school and support their families can effectively prevent child marriage in sub-Saharan Africa, a study by the finds.
According to the council, more than one in ten girls in the region are married before the age of fifteen and four in ten before the age of eighteen. As a result, they face limited educational and economic opportunities and a high risk of domestic violence, HIV infection, and unintended pregnancy. The study, , evaluated the effectiveness of four strategies to delay the age at marriage among girls ages 12 to 17 in parts of Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Burkina Faso where the prevalence of child marriage is particularly high. They include informing communities about the negative consequences of child marriage through community meetings and the engagement of religious leaders; supporting girls' education by providing them with school supplies or uniforms; offering conditional economic incentives to families for keeping girls unmarried and in school; and combining all three approaches.
The researchers found that in Ethiopian communities engaged in conversations about the issue, girls between the ages of 12 and 14 were two-thirds less likely to get married, while in communities where educational support was provided, they were 94 percent less likely to do so. In Ethiopian communities where girls were offered two chickens for every year they remained in school and unmarried, girls between the ages of 15 and 17 were half as likely to get married, while in communities where all three strategies were employed, they were two-thirds less likely to do so. In Tanzania, while community conversations and educational support for the younger girls did not produce a statistically significant reduction in child marriage, in communities where families were offered goats as incentives to keep their older girls unmarried and in school, they were two-thirds less likely to get married, while combining all three strategies had a positive effect on both age groups. The results from the study in Burkina Faso will be released in 2016.
The study also emphasized the cost-effectiveness of the interventions, which ranged in cost from $17 per girl for school supplies in Ethiopia to $117 per girl for the full model that combined all three strategies in Tanzania. In addition, the researchers issued recommendations for policy makers and funders working to end child marriage: recognize that child marriage often is a response to poverty rather than simply a cultural tradition and offer economic incentives to discourage the practice; invest in "hot spots" where girls are most at risk; tailor interventions by age and gender; and coordinate with nongovernmental organizations to avoid duplicating efforts in the same regions.
"Our research shows that the best approaches to delay child marriage are those that elevate girls' visibility and status in their families and communities, build their skills and knowledge, and are cost-conscious and economical," said Annabel Erulkar, Population Council senior associate, Ethiopia country director, and lead researcher on the study. "Child marriage is not an intractable tradition. When families and communities recognize the harms of child marriage and have economic alternatives, they will delay the age at which their daughters get married."