87% of married adolescent girls out of school, says UNICEF

Girls married early are far less likely to stay in school, and a staggering 87 per cent of married adolescent girls are out of school, according to the latest data from the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF)

UNICEF released the new analysis entitled “The Power of Education to End Child Marriage”, yesterday, on the occasion of the Transforming Education Summit at the 77th United Nations General Assembly.

While keeping girls in school is widely acknowledged as one of the best protections against child marriage, new data reveal just how impactful education can be in the efforts to eliminate this harmful practice.

Among the key findings are:
•The girls most at risk of becoming child brides are those with little or no education. Every year of schooling matters, but advancing through secondary school is especially protective.

•If all girls were to complete secondary school, the level of child marriage would likely fall by two-thirds (66 per cent). If all girls continued on to higher education, the level would drop by more than 80 per cent.

•In the top three countries for child marriage, no more than five per cent of girls finish secondary school.

None of the top five countries for child marriage has a secondary completion rate for girls above 15 per cent. In the top three countries, no more than five per cent of girls finish secondary school.

UNICEF noted: “Child marriage is a violation of human rights that limits girls in reaching their full potential. This harmful practice is closely associated with deprivations in education, health, access to resources and empowerment. Chief among these deprivations is the exit from schooling that typically accompanies the marriage of a child. In many countries, marriage and schooling are viewed as incompatible, and decisions about removing a girl from school and marrying her off at a young age are often made at the same time. These decisions are influenced by the perceived value of education and the availability of employment opportunities for educated girls.

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“Better quality and higher education may make the returns on investment in girls more readily apparent and justifiable to both parents and society. Access to quality education and decent work is also critical to breaking the cycle of poverty and the intergenerational transmission of child marriage since girls from more educated and wealthier households are less likely to marry in childhood. As the world rallies to accelerate progress against child marriage, understanding what drives change in how people think about the practice – and act – is key to its elimination.”

The publication uses data to illustrate how child marriage and schooling are related, showing the likelihood of child marriage among populations with different levels of education, as well as the educational status of girls who are child brides today.

To end child marriage, the new data noted that girls and their families must see a better, more advantageous path. It recommended: “Education, which is widely recognised as the most significant factor in delaying the age of marriage for girls, can offer this alternative.

“Quality education, particularly at the secondary-school level, confers knowledge, builds skills and can empower girls to successfully transition to employment. However, to be most protective against child marriage, education must be paired with a robust labour market offering reliable employment.

“What’s more, societies must be receptive to the notion of working women and ensure that families are covered by adequate social protection benefits. Finally, it is essential that married girls are not left behind, and that targeted programmes support child brides in continuing their education.”

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