01 March 2011

Child Marriage and Literacy


According to a UNICEF report, most child marriages take place between the ages of 15 and 18, but in three countries, Niger, Chad and Bangladesh, more than a third of women aged 20-24 were already married by the age of 15. Such practices often flout the law: whilst the legal age of marriage in India is 18 around half of the Indian women surveyed were already married by that age. One negative effect of early marriage is the exclusion of women from education in favour of domestic work and child rearing.
What is interesting is the comparison of marriages and literacy rates. The top three nations (Niger, Chad and Mali) have very low literacy rates. However, the next two (Bangladesh and Nepal) are over double the first three in terms of literacy rates and Bangladesh has a relatively similar rate of girls married under the age of 15. What does this mean? Are some women going to school after the marriage? Is the correlation between education and child brides wrong?

The economist reads the chart saying, "One negative effect of early marriage is the exclusion of women from education in favour of domestic work and child rearing. So countries with a high prevalence of child marriages also tend to have low literacy rates for young women." This makes sense to a certain extent if you were to exclude Bangladesh, Sierra Leone and India. However the very high rate of Bangladesh coupled with a high literacy rate should not be ignored.
Gov't Girls School BangaloreA narrative I have been hearing, which echoes what The Economist concludes, is that by providing access to education, we can protect the girls from the marriages and have a more empowered sex (please forgive my crude summary). Could it be that the focus on education is misplaced? At the very least, solutions cannot be the same for every country. Bangladesh can be considered an outlier, but could that also mean that one of the top three might be the same?

For me, this brings up a lot more questions that I hope to follow up with some more research of my own. I am not at all suggesting that someone has this wrong, but I have to admit being surprised in seeing that there were some exceptions to what had been passed off as a rule.

Please feel free to suggest any readings on this topic.

Photo Credit

Permissions