Child marriage is not only a violation of girl’s rights, it also seriously compromises efforts to reduce gender based violence, advance education, overcome poverty and improve health indicators for girls and women.
At its heart, child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and the belief that girls and women are somehow inferior to boys and men.
Child marriage is a complex issue. Poverty, lack of education, cultural practices, and insecurity fuel and sustain the practice.
But drivers will vary from one community to the next and the practice may look different across regions and countries, even within the same country.
Girls with no education are 3 times as likely to marry by 18 as those with a secondary or higher education.
While it is not clear if child marriage causes school dropout or vice versa, it is clear that child marriage often means the end to a girls’ formal education.
When a girl drops out of school she is denied her right to an education and the ability to develop the skills and knowledge needed to live a healthy, fulfilling life and one where she can earn an income and contribute to her family and community.
Girls tend to drop out of school in the preparatory time before marriage or shortly afterwards. Once a girl is out of school, she is more vulnerable to child marriage and early pregnancy
Many girls aren’t in education because schools are inaccessible or expensive, or simply because parents don’t see the value of education for their daughters, either because it is poor quality or not seen as relevant to their lives. With few alternatives available, parents often see marriage as the best option for their daughter.
Child marriage and early pregnancy can also force girls out of school. Girls tend to drop out before or shortly after marriage because their new role of wife often comes with new expectations around taking care of the home as well as caring for children and extended family.
Returning to school can be difficult too. Married girls who would like to continue schooling may be both practically and legally excluded from doing so.
Education can be one of the most powerful tools to enable girls to avoid child marriage and fulfil their potential. The longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to be married before the age of 18 and have children during her teenage years.
When girls have access to safe, quality secondary education, the benefits are widely felt. Educated girls develop skills, knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions including if, when and whom to marry. Being in school also supports the perception that girls are still children and are therefore not of a suitable age to marry.
However, education alone is not enough to end child marriage. We also need to address the root cause of child marriage: gender inequality and the low value assigned to girls in society. Only then we will end the practice once and for all.