Child marriage costs Africa trillions of shillings, World Bank warns

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Image Credit: Daily Nation

Child brides are, on average, less educated, poorer and more predisposed to sexual and physical abuse than women who marry later in life, reveals a Nation Newsplex review of early marriage and reproductive health data.

As the world continues to mark the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, a new World Bank report finds that when the economic impact of early marriage is added to this grim tally, the bill is quite incredible.

According to the report Educating Girls and Ending Child Marriage: A Priority for Africa, child marriage costs 12 countries that account for half of Africa’s population about $63 billion (Sh6.3 trillion) in lost earnings and productivity. A simple extrapolation suggests that the amount could be double (Sh12.6 trillion) for the entire continent. Ending the custom could add more than $4 trillion (Sh400 trillion) to the global economy by 2030 through ending early childbirths alone, according to the global version of the report compiled jointly with the International Center for Research on Women.

In Kenya, one in eight females age 15-19 is either married, separated, divorced or widowed, compared with less than one percent of males in the same age group, according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2014.

More than three million or a third of girls in sub-Saharan Africa marry before their 18th birthday each year, finds the Africa report. The region has the highest prevalence of early marriage in the world, 35 percent, well above the world average of 19 percent.

KSCE examination

Child brides are much more likely to drop out of school and complete fewer years of education than their peers who marry later. They are also more likely to have children at a young age, which affects their health as well as the education and health of their children. In Kenya, one in six teenagers age 15-19 is pregnant or a mother.

While many African countries have achieved gender parity in primary education, the report notes that girls lag behind boys at the secondary level. In Kenya, enrollment figures from the 2017 and 2018 Economic Survey reports and the Kenya National Examinations Council indicate that nearly half (46 percent) of girls who started Standard One in 2007 did not sit for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KSCE) examination in 2018, meaning that just 54 percent completed their secondary education this year. Additionally, two in five girls who started Standard One in 2007 did not join Form One nine years later in 2015.

In sub-Saharan Africa, seven out of 10 girls complete primary education, but only four out of 10 complete lower secondary school. “Primary education for girls is simply not sufficient. Girls reap the biggest benefits of education when they are able to complete secondary school, but we know that girls very often don’t stay in school if they marry early,” Quentin Wodon, lead economist at the World Bank and principal author of the report, said in a media release.

A Kenyan woman with primary school education is twice as likely as one who has completed secondary school to be physically or sexually abused often, according to KDHS 2014.

Domestic violence

The report also documents the impact of early marriage and girls’ education on more than three dozen other development outcomes. For instance, child marriage leads to a higher risk of intimate partner violence, and lower decision-making in the home.

Child brides are also more likely to believe that a man is justified in beating up his wife. About 45 percent of teenagers aged 15-19 in Kenya think a husband or partner is justified in hitting or beating up his wife or partner, according to the KDHS. Further, two in 10 female teenagers in this age group do not believe that a woman is justified in asking her husband to use a condom if she knows he has a sexually transmitted disease compared with one in 10 women age 20-24.

Other past studies have shown that globally, girls who marry before age 15 are 50 percent more likely to face physical or sexual violence from a partner.

Child deaths

Early marriage also affects the well-being of the children of young mothers, including presenting higher risks of death and malnutrition for children below the age of five. On average, three in 100 deaths among children under five are directly attributable to early childbirths, according to the global report on the economic impact of child marriage.

The report reaffirms that keeping girls in school is one of the best ways to avoid child marriage. Each year of secondary education reduces the likelihood of marrying as a child before the age of 18 by about eight percent in Africa. It also finds that introduction of universal secondary education in the continent would reduce early child birth by three-quarters and almost eliminate early marriage.

On average, women who have a secondary school-level education are more likely to work and earn twice as much as those with no education while those with even higher education are likely to earn five times as much, indicates the report.

Ending early marriage by 2030 is a target under the Sustainable Development Goals, yet relatively few countries have adopted comprehensive strategies to end the practice, and investments in programmes and policies focusing on preventing
and ending the harmful practice remain limited, concludes the World Bank report.