How to stop forced marriage in Africa, soon to have most of the world’s child brides

Too young to say “I do.”
Too young to say “I do.”
Image: Reuters/Katy Migiro
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

According to UNICEF, sub-Saharan Africa will be home to the highest number of child brides in the world by 2050, surpassing South Asia. In Nigeria, for example, where the country’s rate of child marriage has been falling by 1% a year over the past 30 years, its dramatic population growth will mean that an estimated 50 million women (pdf, p.9) in the region’s largest economy will be married before the age of 18.

But ending the practice of child marriage may be easier and cheaper than previously thought.

Giving girls school supplies and economic incentives like goats and chickens drastically reduced their likelihood of being forced into marriage, according to the results of a three-year trial conducted by the Population Council, a nonprofit with offices in the US, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.

Seven of the 10 countries with the highest rates of such marriages in the world are in Africa. In Tanzania’s Tabora region and Ethiopia’s Amhara region, where the study was done, the marriage rate for girls between the ages of 12 and 17 is 8% and 12%, respectively.

The project found that Ethiopian girls between the ages of 12 and 14 who were given school supplies, like school uniforms, were 94% less likely to be married at the end of the study than those who had not. Girl between the ages of 15 and 17 were half as likely to be married when they were given two chickens for each year they stayed in school. In Tanzania, girls who were given two goats were two-thirds less likely to be married by the end of the study than those living in a similar area where the program was not available.

“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,” Annabel Erulkar, lead researcher for the study, said in a statement. The group also held community meetings on the dangers of child marriage. In Tanzania, the cost of using all three measures was $117 per girl and in Ethiopia, it was $44 per girl.

Globally the rate of child marriage is dropping—today, around 8% of women (pdf, p. 5) are married before the age of 15, compared to 12% in the 1980s. In July, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution to ramp up efforts to end all early and forced marriages.