The multi-stakeholder, multi-sector approach brought to light the importance of education to ending child marriage (sometimes referred to as early or forced marriage) in Africa in a way never seen before. It also highlighted linkages with the continent’s learning crisis, which is hitting girls the hardest and limiting Africa’s socio-economic development potential.
Girls hit hardest
Girls with no education are 3 times as likely to marry by 18 as those with secondary or tertiary education. In Africa, the top 20 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage include Chad (67%), CAR (68%), South Sudan (52%), Mali (52%), Niger (76%) and Mauritania (37%).
According to the GPE Results Report 2018, nearly all of these countries also fall below the threshold for gender parity index of 0.88 for both primary and lower secondary completion. Meaning, the gender gap disfavors girls, putting them at a disadvantage for primary and lower secondary completion rates. These countries are also among the poorest and most conflict-affected in the world.
Millions of girls are not in school and millions are not learning. Some parents also do not see the value, or at least the long-term socio-economic returns of education for girls who will eventually leave home once they get married.
The short-term economic gain from marrying off a girl is what is prized, without fully appreciating the long-term benefits accruable to a family, community and nation from investing in her education.
Africa tops the ranks for inequity in education
Coupled with the impact of child marriage on girls’ education, the world’s learning crisis is hitting Africa the hardest, particularly its girls. According to UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, there are 32 million out-of-school children of primary age in Africa and 28 million out-of-school adolescents – the highest rates globally.
Unsurprisingly, the continent has the highest proportion of children unable to read proficiently by age 10. Exclusion and the absence of foundational education skills are rooted in the early years and girls are disproportionately affected – with only 1 in 3 completing lower secondary education.
In Africa, girls living in conflict situations are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school, becoming more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, gender-based violence and child marriage.
Child marriage is rooted in gender inequality
The root of child marriage is gender inequality, and education, in complement to other sector interventions, is a key strategy to avoid girls marrying before age 18. Child marriage and early child bearing are key contributors to girls dropping out of secondary school – and returning to school for those who have children can be difficult or even impossible.
Yet we know that reduced girls’ educational attainment denies girls’ their rights, limits their potential and costs countries trillions in lost earnings.
The GPE-funded study by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the World Bank estimated that if Niger eliminated child marriage, there would be increases in educational attainment and declines in fertility rate that could lead to benefits of more than US$25 billion between 2014 and 2030.