UNICEF: Child Marriage Tied to Poverty & Lack of Education

This week UNICEF released a new report on child marriage as part of the first ever Girls Summit, an event aimed at ending child marriage, forced genital mutilation (FGM), and other practices that harm and disenfranchise women and girls within a generation.

The report finds four countries where buildOn is currently building schools – Burkina Faso, Malawi, Mali and Nepal – among the countries with the highest rates of child marriage. Not surprisingly, UNICEF finds that poverty and lack of education are inextricably linked to the prevalence of  child marriage. Practices like this are one of the reasons buildOn has made gender equality a cornerstone of our school building methodology.

Some troubling statistics from the report on the prevalence of child marriage across the developing world:

  • Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday.
  • (Among child brides) more than one in three (about 250 million) entered into union before age 15.
  • Of the world’s 1.1 billion girls, 22 million are already married. Hundreds of millions more are at risk, and the number will only grow as populations increase.

The UNICEF report finds dire, lifelong and intergenerational consequences for girls who are forced into child marriages:

  • Girls who marry are not only denied their childhood. They are often socially isolated – cut off from family and friends and other sources of support – with limited opportunities for education and employment.
  • Child brides are often unable to effectively negotiate safer sex, leaving themselves vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, along with early pregnancy.
  • Child brides are also less likely to receive proper medical care while pregnant… This, along with the fact that girls are not physically mature enough to give birth, places both mothers and their babies at risk.

The report shows that the prevalence child marriage goes hand-in-hand with poverty and lack of education:

  • There is also a substantial gap in the prevalence of child marriage between the poorest and richest. Females in the poorest quintile are 2.5 times more likely to marry in childhood than those living in the wealthiest quintile.
  • Accordingly, lower levels of education are found among women who married in childhood. In Malawi, for instance, nearly two thirds of women with no formal education were child brides compared to 5 per cent of women who attended secondary school or higher levels of education.

Progress is being made, but must be accelerated in order to end child marriage in the coming decades:

  • Globally, 1 in 4 young women alive today were married in childhood versus 1 in 3 in the early 1980s. 
  • The proportion of young women who entered into marriage before age 15 declined from 12 per cent to 8 per cent over the same period.
  • Unless progress is accelerated, the global number of child brides will remain at least as high as it is today. If progress is accelerated, there will be 1 in 10 child brides in the world in 2050 compared to 1 in 4 today.

The report concludes: “Ending child marriage will help break the intergenerational cycle of poverty by allowing girls and women to participate more fully in society. Empowered and educated girls are better able to nourish and care for their children, leading to healthier, smaller families. When girls are allowed to be girls, everybody wins.”

For buildOn gender equality is the cornerstone of our education methodology, and we recognize the power of education to transform the lives of everyone who has access to it. In many of the countries where we work, women are routinely treated as second-class citizens, but from the beginning of each school construction project we champion the rights of women and girls. buildOn emphasizes gender balance in the Project Leadership Committee responsible for leading the school’s construction, on the jobsite, and in the school’s attendance.

As a condition of partnering with buildOn, each village makes a promise to send their daughters to school in equal numbers with their sons. Through this effort buildOn has given women and girls in many rural villages their first opportunity to become educated and contribute meaningfully to their communities. Currently, 50% of students in buildOn’s 600+ schools are female.

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