School Supplies May Help Prevent Child Marriage

According to new research from the non-profit NGO, Population Council, providing school supplies for girls may combat child marriage in developing countries. This conclusion is the result of 3-year-long studies conducted with families in Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Burkina Faso. Along with other incentives, such as rewarding parents with livestock for each year their daughters remain in school, making education possible for young women was instrumental in keeping them from being forced into early marriages.

Child marriage is rampant around the world, but it is particularly troubling in the developing world, where one-third of all young women are married before they turn 18, with that number climbing above 40 percent in the 20 countries with the highest concentrations of child brides; Burkina Faso and Ethiopia are among those 20 offenders, coming in 8th and 18th, respectively. These rates were much lower in the regions Population Council aided, where eight to 18 percent of young women were in danger of being forced to marry as teenagers.

Eradicating child marriage is an essential component of improving women's lives worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "[c]omplications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second cause of death for 15-19 year-old girls globally," and babies born to teen mothers face a 50 percent higher rate of infant mortality than those born to women in their 20s. In sub-Saharan Africa, teenage girls are two to six times more likely to contract HIV than their male peers, because traditional practices result in their being wedded off to men several times their age.

Lower economic status is one of the major risk factors for forced marriage, with girls from poorer families being almost twice as likely to become child brides than their more affluent peers. But making it possible for teen girls to stay in school is essential, and completing secondary school can decrease their risk of being forced into marriage from 60 percent down to 10.

All this is good to know, but where do books come into play? Sure, they're educational, but — with child marriage being so widespread and culturally ingrained — can they really help that much?

Actually, they can. In the Population Council's research, when provided with school supplies — such as notebooks, pens, and pencils — Ethiopian girls between the ages of 12 and 14 were 94 percent less likely to be married within three years. That's a huge drop, and that's without providing books. But if you combine the Population Council's findings with the fact that having books at home increases children's academic performance, regardless of economic development, history, or national ideology, and you've got a recipe for success, and a great reason to donate books and school supplies to organizations helping developing countries. In a country where two-thirds of girls are raped by their husbands before menarche, it could make all the difference for disenfranchised and imperiled young women.

You can visit the Population Council website to learn more about their efforts to improve the lives of young women worldwide and to find out how you can help prevent child marriage and HIV transmission, and foster gender equality and women's empowerment in the developing world.

Image: Ryan Hyde /flickr