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Cash incentives may not matter most when it comes to ending child marriage

Photo credit: Arne Hoel / World Bank / Flickr

What’s the most effective way to end child marriage? The answer may surprise you. A new evidence review by the Girl Center at Population Council found that empowering girls may be the most effective way to address child marriage. In contrast, economic approaches such as cash transfers may be the least effective.

The study highlights other gaps in what we know, for example, how much child marriage prevention programmes cost. We need more research to understand the costs of interventions and how to scale them up.

What’s new about this study?

The review looked at studies from the last 20 years that used a rigorous evaluation process. The team looked at 22 studies from Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, and grouped them in four categories: empowerment, community, schooling and economic assistance.

They looked at the cost of programmes, and the impact they had on girls’ wellbeing. Unlike previous reviews, they only looked at studies which measured rates of child marriage and age of marriage. Evaluations of programmes that only changed knowledge or attitudes, though a step in the right direction, were not included.

Photo credit: Flickr / BRAC World

Surprising results

Until now, many studies showed economic approaches were the most effective way to end child marriage. This review suggests they may be the least effective. As many as 30% of economic interventions – such as cash and asset transfers – had no impact. Empowerment approaches were the most successful, succeeding in 57% of cases.

But that’s not the whole story

Only studies with a rigorous evaluation methodology were included, so the results of the study could be skewed in favour of better-evaluated (but not necessarily better) programmes. In particular, there is little focus on:

Community based interventions

Community based interventions are less likely to be evaluated, and when they are the evaluation tends to be less robust. Though this review excluded a number of studies looking at community engagement, it does not mean that the intervention itself is necessarily weaker. But it does mean we need more investment in evaluation of these approaches.

Interventions which effect legal and policy change

The impact of legal and policy changes is notoriously difficult to measure, so no studies looking at this type of intervention were included. It does not mean that the intervention is weaker than other intervention types, just harder to measure.

This latest review by Population Council is a step in the right direction. But we need stronger evidence for community and policy-based approaches if we want to have a more a more balanced picture of what works to end child marriage.