5 reasons why ending child marriage and improving education for girls must go hand-in-hand
Every year 14 million girls are married off before their 18th birthday, depriving them of their childhood, their rights to education, to health and to a life of their choosing. In sub-Saharan Africa 39% of girls are married as children.
Every year on 16 June, the African Union commemorates Day of the African Child. This year’s theme, “A child-friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa”, is an opportunity to emphasise how child marriage undermines progress on girls’ education, and how ending child marriage can speed up efforts to improve education for girls.
1) Child marriage often marks the end of a girl’s education
When a girl marries, she usually drops out of school and takes on new domestic and family responsibilities. Child brides miss out on the education they need to grow as individuals and the opportunity to learn skills that will help them to earn an income and to create a better future for themselves and their family.
Married girls who would like to continue their studies may be unable to do so, be this because of rules that prevent them from re-enrolling or because their husbands do not support their education.
2) When girls are not in school, they are vulnerable to marriage
Child marriage keeps girls out of school. Approximately 60% of child brides in the developing world have not had any formal education.
In sub-Saharan Africa fewer than 25% of girls old enough to be in secondary school are enrolled in secondary education, leaving them vulnerable to marriage in adolescence.
3) Education is a protective factor against child marriage
When girls are in school, they are often still regarded as children, not ready for marriage. The longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to be married off before 18 and to have children during her teenage years.
And when girls are educated, they develop the knowledge, confidence and negotiation skills to assert when, whether and whom to marry.
4) Child marriage and a lack of education for girls share a common root: the low status of girls in society
In many communities where child marriage is practiced, girls are not valued as much as boys – they are seen as a burden. Yet when girls are educated and earn an income, they are more likely to reinvest it in their families and communities.
Social norms that only portray girls as future wives and mothers, leaving them no say in the matter, are also part of the problem. Inside and outside the classroom, teaching adolescents comprehensive sexual education can help transform perceptions of girls’ place in society. Girls in particular can benefit from sexual and reproductive health education, by learning how to understand and take ownership of their bodies, and how to claim their rights.
5) To avoid child marriage, girls need safe, quality and accessible education
Many parents remove their daughters from school because of the costs and the safety risks associated, and what they see as a lack of relevance to girls’ lives. To protect girls from marriage, we must address the reasons why families feel unable to keep their children in school and provide girls with safe facilities, education that is relevant to their needs, and ways to address the financial barriers that keep many girls out of school.
While education is a critical factor, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to child marriage. To find out more about what is needed to address child marriage, visit our ‘Solutions’ page.