A new study by the World Bank has found out that for West and Central Africa, annual benefit from ending child marriage could be as high as $60 billion. According to lead economist for the World Bank, Quentin Wodon, child marriage could lead to more children over the parents’ lifetime, which indicates a rapid population growth. If the countries try to stop child marriage, then the population growth could be reduced and GDP per capita will increase. Besides, the World Bank also predicts that governments could get a benefit of $5 billion annually if child mortality is reduced.
The World Bank study includes an interview with a Senegalese girl called Khady Faye. Faye was 11 when her mother told her that she would soon get married, without consulting her own opinion. Later she found herself pregnant, and gave birth to a boy. Although Faye divorced her husband and gave away her son in the end, she was still too old to return to school. Eventually she left the village and ended up on the streets. Now she is 23 and lives in a shelter for girls and women. Because she lacks proper education, her life prospects are dim.
In fact, Faye’s story is typical for many girls in West and Central Africa. According to UNICEF, 40 percent of girls in the region got married before 18, and of those one in three got marred before they reached the age of 15. Although progress has been made over the past decades, child marriage is still particularly rampant in Africa. West and Central Africa’s prevalence rates of child marriage is the second highest in the world, just behind South Asia. Unfortunately, only four countries in Africa have developed strategies to tackle child marriage. This includes Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Chad. And even for Nigeria, which has adopted a plan to end child marriage by 2021, the country’s number of child bride is still estimated to become the highest in Africa by 2050. According to UN Children’s Fund, it could take more than 100 years to put an end to child marriage if current rates of progress are not changed.
The World Bank conducted this research in the hope of highlighting the economic impacts of child marriage. It looked at the earning potential of girls like Faye and found that women married as girls could lose more than $8 billion in income. The amount is likely to rise if the trend is not reversed. Indeed, experts in high-level meetings in Senegal concluded that reversing the trend could result in huge economic benefits. Hence a plan is being made to start a campaign against child marriage.
However, according to Mabel van Oranje, who chairs a global partnership aiming at ending child marriage, highlighting the economic benefit is not enough. In order to entice governments to act on this issue, social norms and tradition should also be considered. As Oranje said, in local communities parents are proud to arrange their young daughters’ marriage. This is not only owing to poverty. Parents believe they are doing the right thing, as this tradition has existed since long ago. As a result, to eliminate child marriage, the governments should not only allocate funding to local areas, they should also educate both the parents and the girls in order to let them know that changing their tradition could not only bring large economic benefits to themselves, but also avoid another tragedy similar to Faye’s.
Girls need proper education in order to prepare to enter the competitive job market. Parents should know that they shouldn’t decide (or maybe ruin) their young daughter’s future at a time when their daughter needs education to thrive in society. Those who persist their child be wedded, regardless of the girl’s future, their opinion to do so should legally be held accountable. When girls are educated to be independent and skilled workers, their parents and the entire country will achieve more success.
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