4-10 August 2017 #870

Not just a social problem, but an economic one

Ending child marriage cannot be done through legislation alone: it needs to be tackled at many different levels
Elizabeth Hanna Satow

Nissi Thapa
TWO SISTERS: At 17, Parvati (right) was about to be married off when the Village Child Protection Committee stopped the wedding. Her older sister Kamala (left) wasn’t as lucky, and was married at 15. Both now campaign against child marriage.

Child marriage is defined as marriage or union before the age of 18. The negative impact of child marriage on girls in particular is well documented. Compared to those who marry later, girls who marry before the age of 18 tend to become pregnant earlier, they suffer a higher number of complications during their pregnancy and they have a higher maternal mortality rate than those who marry later. Child brides also have a high tendency to drop out of school upon getting married and a higher chance of experiencing domestic violence.

But the impact of child marriage goes far beyond individuals and their families. According to the report Economic Impacts of Child Marriage, published by the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) in June 2017, child marriage will cost developing countries trillions of dollars by 2030. Conversely, ending child marriage would have a large positive effect on the educational attainment of girls and their children, contribute to women having fewer children and having those children later in life, and increase women’s expected earnings and household welfare.

The analysis suggests that by 2030, gains in annual welfare from lower population growth could reach more than $500 billion annually. In Uganda, the benefit from reduced fertility would be equivalent to $2.4 billion, while in Nepal this would be almost $1 billion. Child marriage is an economic issue as well as a social one.

Though the prevalence of child marriage has decreased around the world, it remains high in many countries. Nepal is among the 10 countries in the world with the highest rate of child marriage and third highest in Asia, after Bangladesh and India. Over one-third of girls in Nepal (37%) marry before the age of 18 and 10% before the age of 15, according to UNICEF. A 2012 report by World Vision International Nepal, Save the Children and Plan International shows that the prevalence of child marriage varies significantly among Nepal’s many ethnic, religious and caste groups. The rate of child marriage is highest among marginalised and lower-caste communities.

The government has taken some good steps to reducing child marriage in Nepal, making it illegal in 1963. However, implementation and enforcement of protective policies need to be strengthened. Ending child marriage is a target under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5.3 and 16.2 and the Nepal government has endorsed a National Strategy to End Child Marriage in Nepal by 2030. This is a positive step, but much work needs yet to be done. An action plan to implement the strategy is due, and investment is required to bring about the necessary changes to end the practice in Nepal.

Ending child marriage cannot be done through legislation alone: it needs to be tackled at many different levels. On 10 August, World Vision, in partnership with the Association of Community Radio Broadcasters Nepal (ACORAB), will launch a five-year campaign to empower children — working closely with government, civil society, the private sector and communities — to bring an end to child marriage in Nepal.

As we embark on this campaign, I invite you to join us in strengthening systems that protect children, raise awareness and challenge harmful practices so that the children of Nepal can look forward to a future where they can fulfil their potential and the potential of this country.

Elizabeth Hanna Satow is the National Director for World Vision International Nepal.

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