This desk review surveys existing literature and research on the effects of traditional and religious practices surrounding child marriage on Africa’s socio-economic development.
A core objective of the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa is to strengthen the evidence base needed to design and implement effective policies and programmes for reducing child marriage.
Key findings from this review on child marriage:
1. Nearly all research reviewed for this report identifies religion and cultural tradition as a determining factor in the persistence of child marriage in Africa. In addition, socio-economic circumstances such as poverty and gender discrimination are often cited as leading causes.
2. Religious justification for child marriage can be found in countries throughout Africa. No one religion alone is associated with the practice
3. Several studies confirm that ideas about modernity and interventions to counter harmful traditional practices have their greatest impact in urban areas, whether they emanate from the state or from international and national non-government organisations.
4. Among studies and reports that make recommendations, most suggest working with traditional and religious leaders to create awareness of laws and policies at the community level. However, they warn that the simple presentation to such leaders of information on the harmful effects of child marriage is not likely to end any practice based on tradition and religion.
5. Theologians, religious teachers and university-based religious scholars can play an important role in articulating and interpreting the beliefs, teachings and laws of religious communities, especially in the light of the Convention on Rights of the Child and other human rights instruments. Their role is vital in challenging faith-based justification for practices harmful to children.
6. Several key studies encourage those working to end child marriage to identify men’s vested interests in gender inequality and explain to them how supporting women’s rights benefits both men and women. At the same time, girls and women must be involved in carrying out the change.
7. A practical focus rather than an ideological position works best. A number of studies recommend avoiding radical or confrontational language.
8. Eliminating these practices within a generation requires multi-stakeholder involvement and broader poverty reduction and social protection agendas as well as girls’ economic, gender equality and social empowerment.
9. While there is growing evidence documenting the social consequences of child marriage, there is a lack of data that sufficiently demonstrates its economic impact, including the lost growth opportunity, costs for health care systems, lost education and earnings, lower growth potential, and the perpetuation of poverty.
Further research is needed to fully document the consequences of the practice in terms of lost economic opportunity, health care costs, lost education and earnings, lower growth potential and the perpetuation of poverty.