Girl-child education could generate billions of dollars in earnings - UNFPA

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FILE PHOTO: Child marriage (A 14-year-old girl holding her baby).

FILE PHOTO: A 14-year-old girl holding her baby.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) says ending child marriages could generate billions of dollars in earnings and productivity by enabling girls to finish school and participate in the labour force.

According to a report by the World Bank in 2017, child marriages will cost developing countries trillions of dollars in the next decade,  seriously hamper global efforts to eradicate poverty.

UNFPA said empowering girls was critical to ending child marriage adding young people must also be empowered to stand up for themselves and their rights.

“This means they be given accurate information about their sexual and reproductive health, and about their human rights. Such information can be life-changing.

“When vulnerable young people are empowered with this knowledge, they can advocate for themselves, and even persuade their families to cancel or delay engagements,” it said.

UNFPA said millions of children around the world were married off before they were ready, often against their will.

The UN organisation said children who had been pushed into marriage were exposed to violence, including rape, and were often forced from school and into premature parenthood.

“Child marriage is not only a tragedy for the individuals it ensnares – often the most vulnerable, impoverished and marginalised girls – but it also harms communities and societies, as a whole.

“It locks child brides and their families in a cycle of poverty that can persist across generations.

According to the UN population agency, more than 700 million women and girls were now married before their 18th birthday.

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It said poverty was one of the main driving factors behind child marriage, adding the phenomenon was most widespread in low- and middle-income countries, where 26.7 per cent of young women were child brides.

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UNFPA said West and Central Africa had the highest rate of child marriage, with four-in-10 girls married before age 18, while South Asia was home to the largest total number of child brides.

According to the agency, being married at an early age foists both boys and girls into adult responsibilities before they are ready.

It said: “All children in these precarious circumstances are less able to advocate for themselves, and are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

“Yet, girls are more at risk of being harmed than boys. Studies show that child brides are especially at risk of violence – from their spouses, in-laws or even from their own families”.

New UNFPA figures evaluating data from 82 low- and middle-income countries show that one-in-25 boys, or 3.8 per cent, marry before age 18 noting child marriage is almost universally banned.

Two of the most broadly endorsed human rights agreements in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, prohibit child marriage.

Yet around the world, there are national or local laws that enable different interpretations of the agreed principle – many countries permit exceptions with parental consent or under customary law, UNFPA noted.

The UN population agency said even in places where child marriage was clearly illegal, enforcement could be a problem.