Globally, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children and 17 percent of them live in Africa. According to t he United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), if we don’t act now, the number of girls married as children will double by 2050 and Africa will become the region with the highest number of child brides in the world.
Approximately 39 percent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa are married before the age of 18. All African countries are faced with the challenge of child marriage, whether they experience high child marriage prevalence, such as Niger (76 percent) or lower rates like Algeria (3 percent). Child marriage is widespread in West and Central Africa (42 percent) as well as Eastern and Southern Africa (36 percent).
It has also been reported that some of reasons why many parents marry their daughters off can be attributed to poverty and the belief that the girls are safer that way. Tradition and the stigma of drifting away from tradition propagate child marriage in many communities. Significantly, gender inequality and the low importance placed on girls motivate the practice.
It is against this backdrop that the World Bank released a report about the economic importance of ending child marriage. The World Bank stipulated that if child marriage is not brought to its knees, it will cost developing countries trillions of dollars in the next decade, and seriously hamper global efforts to eradicate poverty.
The World Bank also stated that ending child marriage would trim down population growth, improve girls’ educational achievements and increase their earnings. It was also stated that tackling this issue will give more women access to a healthier future and education for their children, thereby boosting prosperity.
“Child marriage not only puts a stop to girls’ hopes and dreams; it also hampers efforts to end poverty and achieve economic growth and equity. Ending this practice is not only the morally right thing to do but also the economically smart thing to do,” said World Bank Economist, Quentin Wodon.
In a report co-authored by Wodon and the International Center for Research on Women, they state that “one of the biggest economic benefits of ending child marriage would derive from a reduction in population growth.”
Girls who marry young have more children on average than those who delay marriage. To address this, the report further stated that global gains from a lower population growth could exceed $500 billion annually by 2030, with cumulative gains topping $4 trillion.
Although world leaders signed an undertaking to end child marriage by 2030 under the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals agreed in 2015, funds to end the practice remain limited.The authors said this was fairly due to the fact that child marriage was seen as a social issue and the economic case for it wasn’t convincing enough.
Early marriage reduces women’s earnings in adulthood by 9 percent, the study revealed, while the children of child mothers tend to suffer poorer development and health.
The study further estimated that by 2030, the economic benefits of lower rates of under-five mortality and stunting – that can lead to permanent damage to health – resulting from an end to child marriage could reach more than $90 billion.
But while the need to address this practice cannot be overemphasized, many hope that this latest report by the World Bank will propel African governments to become more proactive in putting an end to child marriage.