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Ending child marriage is the key to keeping girls in education – our message to G7 leaders

Girls at school in Rajasthan, India. Photo by Allison Joyce/Girls Not Brides

Leaders at the 2019 G7 in Biarritz fulfilled a promise. They acknowledged the importance of gender-responsive education in the Declaration on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.

Keeping girls in school helps keep them out of child marriage

The Declaration from the Biarritz Partnership has been warmly received by organisations engaged in the struggle to prevent child marriage, including at Girls Not Brides.

In the Declaration, G7 Leaders expressed their conviction that “equal access to quality education is vital to achieve the empowerment and equal opportunity of girls and women, especially in developing contexts and in countries struggling with conflict.”

Child marriage and education are intrinsically linked, as child marriage is both a cause and a consequence of poor educational attainment. Of the world’s 132 million out of school girls, the vast majority are living in regions where child marriage rates are highest: sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Girls who have secondary or higher educational attainment are up to six times less likely to marry by age 18 as those with no education.

When girls are forced to leave education and become wives and mothers before they are ready, they are at greater risk of violence, early pregnancy – which can bring complications for both mother and baby – and of contracting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

We have campaigned vigorously, with others, to encourage the G7 to: recognise the need for global level action to promote gender equality and to end child marriage; develop solutions to these issues that are prioritised for implementation at national level; and to pledge funding for policies which empower girls, protect them from violence and guarantee access to primary and secondary education.

Academic support for girls in Morocco

One of our members in North Africa is working to prevent child marriage by supporting girls to remain in education.

Project Soar, based in Morocco, offers girls academic support and empowerment coaching that equips them to take affirmative decisions to combat pressure to marry early. Participation is free, but girls joining the programme must commit to stay in education.

Since it began in 2013, Project Soar has expanded its operations to more than 30 locations.

By age 15, Project Soar alumni typically achieve a passing rate of 73%, compared to an average passing rate of 44%, in a country where 76% of girls have dropped out of school by this age.

Education allows girls to reach their full potential

While we welcome the G7 Leaders’ support for gender equity in access to education, we hope that successive meetings will build on progress to date and explicitly acknowledge the linkages between educating girls and eliminating child marriage.

Helping girls to stay in school and avoid child marriage generates benefits that extend across entire societies. Low educational attainment and child marriage can combine to prevent girls from making a decent living, which in turn impacts on many countries’ economic performance and their ability to meet their Sustainable Development Goals’ commitments.

By ending child marriage, governments could save up to $17 billion per year by 2030, just from savings related to providing public education. The World Bank has estimated that in Niger, child marriage could cost the country up to $1.7 billion every year. Any education plan endorsed by G7 leaders must recognise the importance of tackling the issue of child marriage. This could be achieved through integrating ending child marriage into any strategy to improve girls’ education, for example by targeting girls at risk and developing curricular components that equip girls with the knowledge and skills to avoid early marriage.

The paradigm shift to a gender blind world that the G7 Leaders envisage – “a global coalition committed to the full empowerment of girls and women” cannot be achieved while so many girls are prevented from reaching their full potential by being denied opportunities to complete, or even start, an education, or are pressured or coerced into early marriage.