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Child marriage robs girls of their opportunities, charity finds

11 October 2022


Young Hausa girls in Maradi, Niger, where child marriage is common, photographed in 2020

Young Hausa girls in Maradi, Niger, where child marriage is common, photographed in 2020

AN INDEX of the opportunities available to girls in low- and middle-income countries lays bare the link between lack of educational and economic opportunity and high rates of child marriage.

The index, devised by World Vision, found that where girls have opportunities to study and work, and have access to health care, they are less likely to be forced into an early marriage.

The charity calculates that about 110 million girls will be forced into child marriage between now and 2035 unless education in income improves in the worst-affected countries.

Forty low- and middle-income countries were studied to produce the index — 20 where there is known to be a high rate of child marriage, and 20 other countries with comparable economies.

The index showed that countries that offered girls the lowest opportunities included Chad and the Central African Republic, where 61 per cent of girls are married under the age of 18, and Niger, where 76 per cent of girls are married early.

The study found a dramatic variation in girls’ opportunities between the top and bottom countries of the index. In the top five, 94 per cent of women above the age of 15 are literate, compared with only 26 per cent in the bottom five countries.

Countries highest in opportunities for girls include Peru, South Africa, Vietnam, and the Dominican Republic, where girls are calculated to have 50 per cent more opportunities than girls born in countries with the highest rates of child marriage.

World Vision’s report, Fighting for a Future, which sets out the opportunity index, was published to coincide with International Day of the Girl on 11 October.

The study found some anomalies in a few countries such as Mozambique, which offers high levels of opportunity but also has high levels of child marriage, at 53 per cent.

None the less, a girl born in Namibia, with a child-marriage rate of seven per cent, will have many more opportunities to achieve economic independence than a girl born in neighbouring Mozambique.

Education was shown to be the biggest factor in the disparities. The study says: “A child that lives in a country with the lowest education opportunities is 60 per cent more likely to be a child bride compared to a child that lives in a country with the highest level of educational opportunities.”

The closure of schools during the pandemic is said to have forced an additional ten million girls into child marriage.

World Vision’s partnership leader for advocacy and external engagement, Dana Buzducea, said: “Every year, approximately 12 million girls are married before they reach the age of 18, and placed at high risk of sexual abuse, domestic violence, depression, and arrested education. . .

“World Vision believes the world has both the knowledge and the resources to break this vicious circle, ensuring that every girl, no matter where she is born is protected from the violence that is child marriage, is able to make choices, build the life she wants, and achieve her full potential. What we need is the political will to use them.”

The international president and CEO of World Vision, Andrew Morley, said: “Child marriage robs girls of their God-given potential in an instant. . . We owe it to all girls everywhere to ensure they enjoy their childhoods free from abuse, are educated, and have equal opportunities to excel, no matter where in the world they are born.”

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