Pervasive child marriages add to women’s struggles worldwide: Report

Child marriage

Young women are paraded before a mass wedding ceremony in the village of Funda, some 30kms from Bhopal. AFP/Getty Images)

SANDRINE RASTELLO
BLOOMBERG NEWS

More than 142 million girls from India to Niger will be married before they turn 18 over the next decade, increasing their chances of being illiterate, victims of domestic violence or infected with HIV, a World Bank report showed.

The findings will be released today at the Washington-based institution during an event with former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They’re part of a report called “Voice and Agency: Empowering women and girls for shared prosperity” that describes the hurdles for women worldwide and suggests ways to shift the social norms that put them at a disadvantage.

“The persistent constraints and deprivations that prevent many of the world’s women from achieving their potential have huge consequences for individuals, families, communities and nations,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim wrote in a foreword to the report. The bank’s “twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity demand no less than the full and equal participation of women and men, girls and boys, around the world.”

Early marriage, which the bank says can be decreased by increasing girls’ education levels, received renewed attention this month after Islamist group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from their dormitories in northern Nigeria. A video of the militant sect’s leader threatening to sell the girls in “markets” and marry them off helped galvanize a global campaign to free them joined by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.

Child Brides

The bank said child marriage remains “pervasive” in developing economies, with one in three girls wedded before 18 and one in nine before 15. A third of the world’s child brides live in India, according to the report, and girls from poor households in rural areas are most at risk.

“Rising education levels have been a critical factor in increasing the age of marriage in a number of developing countries, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand,” according to the report.

Among ways to do that, “payments to girls or their families are sometimes tied to investment in daughters’ education and to the condition that they do not marry before age 18.”

In Ethiopia, a two-year project in the rural Amhara region provided cash to families if they kept their daughters in school for the duration of the program. The girls enrolled, ages 10 to 14, were one-tenth as likely to be married compared with non- participants on the site, the bank said.

The report also looks into gender-based violence, which more than one in three women have experienced. It shows how women’s work choices remain restricted and that many lack sexual and reproductive rights.

“Policy makers and stakeholders need to tackle this agenda, drawing on evidence about what works and systematically tracking progress on the ground,” the bank said in the report. “This must start with reforming discriminatory laws and follow through with concerted policies and public actions, including multi-sectoral approaches that engage with men and boys and challenge adverse social norms.”

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