The Cost of Child Marriage
by Mabel van Oranje,Natalia Kanem,Henrietta H. Fore-NEW YORK – The human costs of child marriage are well known; around the world, child brides are, on average, less educated, poorer, and more prone to sexual violence than women who marry later in life. But when the economic impact of child marriage is added to this grim tally, the bill is truly staggering.
According to the International Center for Research on Women and the World Bank, ending the practice of child marriage would save billions of dollars in annual welfare expenditures, resulting in global savings of more than $4 trillion by 2030. Simply put, the world cannot afford to allow child marriage to continue.
Many governments have already recognized this. In Indonesia, for example, where the economic impact of child marriage is negatively affecting long-term growth forecasts, President Joko Widodo has vowed to outlaw the practice, a significant pledge in a country where 14% of girls are married before their 18th birthday.
But in most countries where child marriage is prevalent, change is not occurring fast enough. While strategies have been discussed from Bangladesh to Zambia, funding for programs proven to reduce rates of child marriage – such as improving girls’ access to health care, education, and job training – remains inadequate. If ending child marriage is ever to be more than a political talking point, holistic strategies must be backed by financial commitments.
To be sure, the child-marriage challenge is immense. Today, roughly one in five girls worldwide is married or in an informal union before they turn 18, and most of these girls will become mothers before they reach adulthood. In Niger, which has the world’s highest rate of child marriage, 76% of girls are married before they can vote. And wherever child marriage occurs, girls often have little say in the decision.
The good news is that there has never been a better time to tackle this global problem. With the economic costs of child marriage now clear, governments in the developing world are beginning to address the issue with more urgency. To tip the scales, however, rich countries must be enlisted in the fight, and the next opportunity for them to engage is fast approaching.