How Goats and Chickens Can Help End Child Marriage

Economic incentives proved effective among communities in sub-Saharan Africa.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Aug 15, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

In Ethiopia and Tanzania, young girls are married to adult men in exchange for livestock. But if the girls already own the animals, that monetary trade becomes less vital for poor families.

That’s the thinking behind an incentive and education program to reduce child marriage from international organization Population Council. After spending three years in Tanzania and Ethiopia—where almost 40 percent of girls are married before they turn 18—researchers found that donations of school supplies, providing girls and their families with chickens and goats, and community education were effective in decreasing rates of child marriage in both countries.

Child marriage is deeply rooted in tradition but often perpetuated by poverty. Poor girls are twice as likely to be married by age 18 than those with wealthy families, according to the International Research Center on Women. Struggling parents often marry off their daughters because they can’t afford to care for them or pay for schooling, and because they desperately need the dowry that accompanies marriage.

“When families and communities recognize the harms of child marriage and have economic alternatives, they will delay the age at which their daughters get married,” said Annabel Erulkar, the study’s lead researcher.

The results were especially promising for young girls in Ethiopia, where child marriage is illegal. Those ages 12 to 14 who received school supplies were 94 percent less likely to be married, and those whose communities underwent an educational program on the harms of child marriage were 67 percent less likely to be married. Girls 15 to 17 who were promised two chickens every year they did not get married were half as likely to get married than those who were not.

In Tanzania, where the legal marriage age is 15 for girls, the interventions for 12- to 14-year-old girls were not successful, but giving 15- to 17-year-olds goats in exchange for delaying marriage decreased the odds by more than 60 percent.

Erulkar and her team also compiled the cost of incorporating all three models per girl in both countries: $44 in Ethiopia and $117 in Tanzania.

That’s a small price to pay compared with the economic consequences of child marriage. Early marriage curtails a girl’s education, impairing her ability to get a job and contribute to her family and community. Child marriage propagates global poverty, so it often leads to other human rights violations, including domestic violence and sexual abuse, according to Girls Not Brides, a group of organizations committed to ending child marriage.

More than 14 million girls around the world get married before the age of 18 each year. There are more than 700 million women alive today who married as children. Without intervention, that figure will rise to 1.2 billion by 2050.

Population Council is continuing its program in Burkina Faso, which has the seventh-highest rate of child marriage in the world.