Four in 10 ten girls in the region are married before the age of 18, UNICEF says.
Ending child marriage is simply a matter of human rights — no child should have their future stripped from them.
But a new report by the World Bank found that there are economic benefits to ending child marriage that could improve the educational attainment of girls, increase women’s expected earnings in the labor force, and reduce mortality rates and population growth.
The World Bank study says that ending child marriage by 2030 could generate well over $60 billion annually for West and Central Africa — home to six of the 10 countries with the highest rates of the practice worldwide.
“When [children] marry as children, before the age of eighteen, they tend to have more children over their lifetime and also more children earlier,” Quentin Wodon, a lead economist for the World Bank, told Voice of America. “So that reduction in fertility has an impact on population growth, and what happens is that if you reduce population growth, then GDP per capita will increase.”
The report also looked at earnings for women who were married as girls. In the six countries that account for two-thirds of the region’s population, women married as girls have lost out on over $8 billion in income and it’s most likely to increase if trends continue, according to the report.
Another benefit of ending child marriage would be the reduced rates of maternal and child mortality and food insecurity. Globally, the estimated benefits of lower under-five mortality and malnutrition could reach more than $90 billion annually by 2030, according to the report.
“I think it has to do partially with the enormous levels of poverty here,” Mabel van Oranje, the chair of Girls Not Brides, told Voice of America. “It also has to do a lot with social norms, tradition. You know it’s an honourable thing to make sure that your daughter is married at a young age, and parents think that they do the right thing.”
Only four West and Central African countries have developed strategies for ending child marriage — Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Chad, according to Oranje.
Niger has the highest rate of child marriage in the world. If child marriage and teenage pregnancies were eliminated, the population would be 5% smaller by 2030.
Some countries are already making strides in reducing child marriage.
Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Togo, Ghana, and Rwanda’s child marriage rates have declined between 40% to 60% over the past 25 years, UNICEF reports.
In order to end child marriage, officials say it’s important for girls to stay in school, because it makes them less likely to get married and have children.
“Getting girls to schools should be our top priority,” Fatoumata Ndiaye, UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director said. “Not only because it equips girls for life, but it also helps to lift their families, their communities, their countries out of poverty.”
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