Advocates for ending child marriage are trying a new tactic: Show governments just how much the practice is hurting their own bottom line.
That's the goal of a new report by the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), a global research and advocacy group. The report analyzes the impact of child marriage on the national budgets and economic growth of 25 countries where at least one in three women marry before age 18. Its conclusion: By 2030 child marriage will cost developing countries billions of dollars in health-care and education costs as well as lost earnings potential.
Suzanne Petroni, one the report's co-authors and a senior director at ICRW charged with expanding the evidence base on child marriage, is hoping the data will be a wake-up call for governments. Until now, Petroni says, research on child marriage has mainly focused on determining its prevalence, causes and costs to women at the individual or family level.
This prior research has helped bring global attention to the issue and even galvanized some political will to address it. But only up to a point: "The investments that are needed to end the practice have not been forthcoming," says Petroni. "So if we could document and show finance ministers, policy makers, donors and communities that child marriage has a cost to their bottom line budgets, we may finally be able to spur investments in solutions."