I'm passionate about finding solutions that address the social issues that affect women and children in developing countries of the world.
The Magnitude of the Problem
|COUNTRY RANK (% BURDEN AT 18 YEARS)||COUNTRY||CHILD MARRIAGE BURDEN AT 18 YEARS (%)||ABSOLUTE NUMBERS OF CHILD MARRIAGE||COUNTRY RANK (ABSOLUTE NUMBERS)|
Central Africa Republic
Democratic Republic of Congo
Child Marriage in the African Continent
As shown in the table above, among the top 20 countries in the world with the highest prevalence rates, 18 of the countries are from the African continent. At the top and bottom of the list are Niger and Mauritania, with prevalence rates of (76%) and (38%) respectively. Niger has a prevalence rate that is twice that of Mauritania and above the average of the top 20 countries, which is at (43.6%).
Absolute Numbers of Child Marriages
Yet, when we consider the absolute numbers of child marriages, a slightly different perspective comes into view. We now have countries like Niger and Mozambique which ranked first and tenth, moving downwards to the fourteenth and fifteenth positions, respectively. While Nigeria and Ethiopia—which ranked eleventh and fifteenth, respectively, for prevalence rates—move up to the third and fifth positions. Also noteworthy is the fact that four additional African countries, Tanzania, Egypt, Sudan and Kenya, join the list of top 20 countries in the world with high child marriage rates when absolute numbers are considered.
What's even more alarming are the future implications of the absolute numbers for the African continent. According to the United Nations Population Division, Sub-Saharan Africa's population is projected to double over the next 30 years. What this means is that over the next 30 years, we can expect the absolute numbers of child marriages to at least double if tangible interventions are not put in place.
According to the United Nations Population Division, Sub-Saharan Africa's population is projected to double over the next 30 years. This means that over the next 30 years, we can expect the absolute numbers of child marriages to at least double if tangible interventions are not put in place.
Background Factors That Characterize Early Marriage
The strongest determinants of early marriage within the African continent are educational status, socioeconomic status, and traditions and customs.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO):
- Out of the world’s 121 million out-of-school children, a vast proportion is girls living in regions where child marriage rates are the highest; Sub-Saharan Africa is one of them.
- In Sub-Saharan Africa, for every 100 boys of primary school age out of school, there are 123 girls denied the right to education.
- The female literacy rate is under 50% in over 12 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. In several cases, it’s under 20%.
- Across Sub-Saharan Africa, 4 million girls will never attend school compared to 2 million boys.
Educational status has been and continues to be one of the strongest determinants of early marriage. As far back as 1996, by way of an analysis of the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data spanning from 1984 to 1996 for forty countries inclusive of 16 Sub-Saharan countries; researchers found that in 10 out of the 16 Sub-Saharan countries studied, women with at least some secondary school education were about 50-85% as less likely as educated women to marry at a young age.
In the remaining six countries, they found the difference to be as large as 40-50%. Studies have also shown that there is a strong correlation between a woman’s age at marriage and the amount of education she receives. In many developing countries within the African continent, early marriage remains a significant barrier to women’s education. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), "Girls with no education are three times as likely to marry by 18 as those with a secondary or higher education." On the flip side, for those already in school, child marriage might mean an end to formal education. One study showed school dropouts by girls as high as 10-30% in certain countries.
Educational status has been and continues to be one of the strongest determinants of early marriage. Studies show that there is a strong correlation between a woman’s age at marriage and the amount of education she receives. In many developing countries within the African continent, early marriage remains a significant barrier to women’s education.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF):
- Africa is the world's poorest continent.
- Despite some upturn in economic growth rates within the African continent, poverty is still widespread.
- The economic and social situation in Sub-Saharan Africa remains fragile and vulnerable to domestic and external shocks.
Higher levels of family income and parents’ educational attainment are thought to delay the transition to marriage for several reasons. One such reason is that the greater resources parents have, the more likely it is that they are able to cater to the needs of their young adolescent children, thereby reducing their motivation to leave home through marriage.
Yet, in some parts of the African continent, daughters are considered an economic burden; feeding, clothing and educating girls are perceived as costly. Hence, a family’s only way to recover its investment in a daughter may be to have her married in exchange for a dowry. For some tribes, the payment of bride price from prospective in-laws for a girl's hand in marriage has the potential to elevate her father’s socioeconomic status because of the dowry he receives.
Still, in another study, we observe how in some traditional societies where infant mortality is very high and survival is largely dependent on a family’s ability to produce its own food or goods for sale; early marriage helps to maximize the number of pregnancies and ensures enough surviving children to meet household labor needs.
Higher levels of family income and parent’s educational attainment are thought to delay the transition to marriage for several reasons. One of such reasons is that the greater resources parents have, the more likely it is that they are able to cater to the needs of their young adolescent children, thereby reducing their motivation to leave home through marriage.
Traditions and Customs
It is not in all settings that socio-economic status is a strong determinant of early marriage. This was the case in a qualitative assessment carried out in Ethiopia, where many of the families who practiced adolescent marriage were relatively well-to-do; and for most of the families, there was no significant economic benefit to be realized from the early marriage of their daughters. The study showed that traditional and cultural values were the most important cause of early marriage in Ethiopia, as these formed not only new alliances between tribes, clans and villages but also reinforced social ties.
It is not in all settings that socio-economic status is a strong determinant of early marriage. In some settings, traditional and cultural values are the most important determinants of early marriage as these form not only new alliances between tribes, clans and villages but also reinforce social ties.
Other Possible Factors Responsible for Early Marriage
In addition to those listed above, there are several other factors that may contribute to early marriage.
There are studies that point to the home environment as a possible determinant of early marriage. Though findings from one study which looked at urban-rural differences (with regards to early marriage) were not that significant in many Sub-Saharan countries as urban women were only 70-90% as likely as rural women to marry before age 20; Nigeria, Senegal and Togo (which are all west African countries) showed larger than average differentials in this region in that urban women were 57-60% as likely as rural women to marry before age 20. Similarly, research carried out in Rajshahi Bangladesh to study the determinants of early marriage found the difference between early marriage in rural and urban areas to be not that significant.
Exposure to Mass Media as a Possible Determinant
The use of mass media was shown to have a significant effect on the age at first marriage in a separate study in Bangladesh. Worldwide there are a growing number of Media/Entertainment Education initiatives that focus on child marriage and on changing attitudes related to child marriage which are proving to be effective.
Child Marriage Is Still Common
Marriage within the African context usually involves several stages leading up to the marriage ceremony. Hence, it is not uncommon for women to be betrothed during childhood. While the period of time between the marriage proposal and marriage can last several years in some cultures, allowing enough time for the child to mature physically and emotionally into a young woman. In others, the process may be relatively short and result in marriage at an early age.
Despite the widespread perception that marriage is for mature minds and should be devoid of external influence, child marriage is still relatively common in many parts of Africa. Many women who are forced to marry at an early age have little or no choice in determining when or who they will marry.
Despite the widespread perception that marriage is for mature minds and should be devoid of external influence; child marriage is still relatively common in many parts of Africa. Many women who are forced to marry at an early age have little or no choice in determining when or who they will marry.
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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2020 Ejeagba Chinonso Chioma