According to a new study from the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women; ending child marriage would reduce population growth, boost girls’ educational achievements and increase their earnings. These will also lead to healthier and better educated children, further boosting prosperity.

Often driven by poverty and cultural acceptance, child marriage usually involves a girl marrying an older man and deprives girls of education and opportunities, keeping them in poverty.

“Child brides are often robbed of their rights to safety and security, to health and education, and to make their own life choices and decisions. Child marriage not only puts a stop to girls’ hopes and dreams. It also hampers efforts to end poverty and achieve economic growth and equity. Ending this practice is not only the morally right thing to do but also the economically smart thing to do,” World Bank economist Quentin Wodon, who co-authored the report – the first to look at the economic impact of child marriage, said in a statement.

The first study quantifies the financial cost of the practice, suggesting that eradicating child marriage would save governments money while enabling girls to complete their education and get better jobs.

Read: African First Ladies commit to ending child marriage

“This research provides crucial evidence showing that child marriage doesn’t just impact the lives of the 15 million girls married every year, but also has a major negative impact on the economic development of the countries in which these girls live,” said Lakshmi Sundaram, executive director of Girls Not Brides, a coalition of organizations committed to ending child marriage.

“Governments and other policymakers should be spurred on by this research to commit additional energy and resources to ending child marriage by 2030. By ridding the world of child marriage, we can help alleviate poverty and ensure that girls everywhere have access to a brighter future.”

Each year more than 15 million girls worldwide are married before they turn 18 and experts say these child brides are more likely to be victims of sexual and domestic abuse and become teenage mothers. Additionally pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 globally.

Girls like this schoolgirl in Central African Republic are often at risk of child marriage. (Photo: Pierre Holtz, UNICEF)

“Poverty, gender inequality, poor access to quality education and to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services, and a lack of decent employment opportunities, help perpetuate child marriage and early childbirths,” said Suzanne Petroni, ICRW’s Project Director and co-author of the report. “These will all need to be addressed for countries to successfully end this harmful and costly practice.”

The new report finds that ending child marriage:

–  Would have a large positive effect on the educational attainment of girls and their children and increase women’s expected earnings and household welfare;

–  Lead to substantial reductions in population growth over time;

–  Reduce rates of under-five mortality and delayed physical development due to a lack of appropriate nutrition.

Report Implications

Looking at data from 15 countries with high child marriage rates, the report found that a girl marrying at 13 will have 26% more children over her lifetime than if she had married at 18 or later. Researchers calculated that ending child marriage would reduce national fertility rates by 11%.

Read: Too young to wed: The realities of child marriage in Africa

The study estimated that ending child marriage would save billions of dollars each year, reaching $566bn by 2030 due to reduced population growth. Fewer deaths and reduced stunting among children under five years old would also save billions. Ending all early childbirths could save up to $708bn by 2030.

Ending child marriage, a target of the sustainable development goals adopted by the UN in 2015, would have major benefits for governments and donors, said Suzanne Petroni, a senior director at the International Center for Research on Women.

“One of the ways in which we thought we could potentially affect more significant change by governments and donors was by helping them understand the bottom line – what does child marriage cost to their economies?” said Petroni, one of the report’s authors. “And as finance ministers and others saw the findings and realized there is actually a financial cost to our country’s development as a result of child marriage, they might take it more seriously and provide investments to end the practice.”

Meanwhile…

Lawmakers in Honduras have voted unanimously to ban child marriage, making it illegal in the Central American nation for children under the age of 18 to get married under any circumstances.

The law passed on Tuesday raises the minimum marriage age to 18 from 16 and removes all exceptions for child marriage, meaning that girls and boys under 18 cannot get married even with the permission of their parents.

Belinda Portillo from children’s charity Plan International said Honduras had “made history” by passing the law in a country where one in four children are married before the age of 18. “The fight against child marriage is a strategic way of promoting the rights and empowerment of women in various areas, such as health, education, work, freedom from violence,” Portillo, Plan’s Honduras country director, said in a statement.