Unpacking the Economic Impacts of Child Marriages

Poverty, gender inequality, poor access to quality education and a lack of decent employment opportunities among other social ills help perpetuate child marriage and early childbirths, a World Bank and International Centre for Research on Women 2017 report has noted.

According to the report, child marriages will cost developing countries trillions of dollars by 2030.

The report further noted that ending child marriages would reduce the rare of under-five mortality and delayed physical development due to a lack of appropriate nutrition (stunting).

In Zimbabwe, one in every four adolescents aged 15-19 years are married before the age of 18 which has a large bearing on government’s efforts in trying to reduce teen pregnancies.

“Child brides face huge challenges as a result of being married as children. Isolated, often with their freedom curtailed, girls frequently feel dis-empowered and are deprived of their fundamental rights to health, education and safety,” says an Advocacy group, Girls Not Bribes.

According to the Economic Impacts of Child Marriage report, in the past 30 years, the prevalence of child marriage (marriage or union before the age of 18) has decreased in many countries, but it still remains far too high.

In a set of 25 countries for which detailed analysis was conducted, at least one in three women marry before the age of 18, and one in five women have their first child before the age of 18.

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Pregnant children from Mashonaland Central during a Ministry of Health event recently

Child brides are much more likely to drop out of school and complete fewer years of education than their peers who marry later and this has a huge bearing on attaining the Sustainable Development Goals number 1 (ending poverty) 2 ( Zero Hunger) 3 (Good Health and Well Being) 4 (Quality Education) 5 (Gender Equality) and 8 (Economic Growth)

This affects the education and health of their children, as well as their ability to earn a living.

Speaking to 263Chat, Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, Secretary General of the renowned, World Young Women’s Christian Association (World YWCA), said “child Marriage is violence and sexual violence which has economic, social and financial costs:

“Economic costs that is loss of human resource potential as girls drop out of school and unable to continue education and contribute to the economic with higher productivity on their potential

“Such families are usually in poverty or create a circle of poverty with inability to provide for their own children, who may end up also dropping out of school and living on the economic margins.”

Gumbonzvanda alludes that Child marriages also carry financial costs related to access to justice, that is, costs for reporting to police, court attendance and the cost to government for law enforcement and justice administration

There are health related costs that is, psycho-social services, medical complications such as complications at child birth, fistula that can come as a result of child marriages

“Education related costs, that is, it’s tougher to re-enter into the education system because often one has to go to a different school, distance, child care etc. If its non-formal education the cost might be the quality of education,’’ Gumbonzvanda added.

Child marriages also carry social costs with family fragmentation, stress, divorces, abandonment and young widows which are bad for the society.

The challenge of ending child marriages in Zimbabwe is far from over as the current Marriages Act (Chapter 5:11) provides for marriage of a girl between the ages of 16 and 18 with consent of a guardian or a judge of the High Court in the absence of a guardian.

The customary marriages Act (Chapter 5:07) does not specify the minimum age of marriage thus allowing practice for early marriages to continue.

“Child brides are often robbed of their rights to safety and security, to health and education, and to make their own life choices and decisions

“Child marriage not only puts a stop to girls’ hopes and dreams. It also hampers efforts to end poverty and achieve economic growth and equity. Ending this practice is not only the morally right thing to do but also the economically smart thing to do,” said Quentin Wodon, the World Bank’s Project Director and co-author of the World Bank report.

Across the countries considered in the report, three in four early childbirths (children born to a mother younger than 18) are attributed to child marriage.

The report estimates that a girl marrying at 13 will have on average 26 percent more children over her lifetime than if she had married at 18 or later.

This means that ending child marriage would reduce total fertility rates by 11 percent on average in those countries, leading to substantial reductions in population growth over time.

In Niger, the country with the highest prevalence of child marriage in the world, the population by 2030 could be five percent smaller if child marriage and early childbirths were eliminated.

The analysis suggests that by 2030, gains in annual welfare from lower population growth could reach more than $500 billion annually.

The report confirms that keeping girls in school is one of the best ways to avoid child marriage. Each year of secondary education reduces the likelihood of marrying as a child before the age of 18 by five percentage points or more.

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