Giving Girls a Chance: Ending Child Marriage and Promoting Education in Niger and Georgia

Child marriage and lack of education hinder a young girl’s chances to lead a successful life. Both the countries of Niger and Georgia are combating the issue of child marriage in hopes of keeping girls in school and promoting delayed marriage. As of now, the girls that get married before the legal age (18 years old) are more likely to drop out of school and have children before they are mature enough.

Both countries have made progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goal of promoting self-empowerment in women and gender equality. However, the UNICEF reports that Niger still has an exceptionally high rate of child marriage with 76% of girls marrying before the age of 18 and 26% marrying before the age of 15. In Georgia, 14% of the girls are marrying before the age of 18 regardless of the strict marriage laws in the country. Since these numbers are so high, it’s important to consider why. Poverty, lack of education, and traditions contribute to the number of girls marrying.

To thoroughly explore the correlation between child marriage and education in Niger and Georgia, this paper will give a background between the two countries. It will also review the key differences between the two countries in life expectancy, amount of people living below $1.90-a-day, and GDP per capita. After the background information, this paper compares the poverty, education access, and traditions of these two countries and the progress that’s being made to fight child marriage and provide girls with access to education.

 

Brief Literature Review

All of these studies recognize that keeping young girls in school and providing an education can greatly reduce the risk of child marriage and prevent adolescent pregnancy. Smith, Stone, and Kahando (2012) provide details on the correlating relationship between a girl completing her education and how successful she will be in life. Jegorova-Askerova (2016) and the UNFPA report (2014) analyze the child marriage rates in Georgia and give recommendations on how to reduce the percentages of child marriage within that country. These articles also examine the child marriage laws and how the citizens of Georgia view these laws. Male and Wodon (2016) and Hanmer, Klugman, McCleary-Sills, and Parsons focus on child marriage and its consequences in Niger. These authors review the consequences and social barriers of children not completing their education.

  • Hanmer, Klugman, McCleary-Sills, and Parsons (2015), analyze the correlation between education and child marriage in low income countries (including Niger). The authors also examine the social and structural barriers that keep girls from completing school. They also provide some recommendations to keep girls in school like, providing scholarships, hiring more female teachers, and reducing the distance between schools.
  • Jegorova-Askerova (2016) reviews child marriage in the country of Georgia and the regulations that have been put in place in hopes of reducing the amount of underage brides. Most girls are unable to finish a basic education before they are married off and traditional people do not see a problem with this. Another issue is that no one knows which children are married because the marriages aren’t registered with the country. This makes it more difficult to help the girls who are forced to quit school and marry.
  • Male and Wodon (2016) focuses on the very high rates of child marriage in Niger. Child marriage rates have declined over the past 25 years but not rapidly. They also examine how child marriage is associated with lower wealth, lower literacy, little education, and higher labor force participation. However, the authors analyze these symptoms as correlations and not causal effects.The authors focus on girls living in rural areas because that’s where most of the underage marriage happens in this country.
  • Smith, Stone, and Kahando (2012) examine the data in favor of girls completing a secondary education and delaying marriage. There is a correlating relationship between a woman’s literacy and age of marriage that’s critical to the developing countries public health and education goal. Those who are more literate tend to get married later and thus lead better lives. Unlike most other studies, this one focuses on how the education and age of the mother plays a role in the age and education of their daughters.
  • UNFPA (2014) gives an overview of Georgia’s recommendations for solving child marriage as well as the laws concerning marriage and education. The report proposes the laws regarding education and marriage should be more heavily enforced and mandatory classes on sexual reproductive health for girls in school. The report also gives relevant statistics and warns the readers about the consequences of child marriage.

 

Socio-Economic Background

According to the World Fact Book on Niger, the country is considered to be the second least-developed country in the world as of 2016. This is because of many reasons like “food insecurity, lack of industry, high population growth, and a weak education sector.” Niger mostly relies on agriculture and uranium. Only 16.4 percent of their goods and services are exported while the rest is consumed by the government and the people. Agriculture makes up 44.3 percent of the economy while services make up 40.8 percent. This country has a semi-presidential republic and gained its independence from France in 1960. Niger has the highest fertility rate at close to 7 children per woman in 2016. Also, almost 70 percent of the population is made up of youth ages 0-24.

Like Niger, Georgia has a large section of the population working in agriculture at 55.6 percent while the services sector takes up about 35.5 percent. Some of Georgia’s major exports include, vehicles, fertilizers, nuts, and gold. Georgia had an economic crisis in 1994 due to gaining their independence from the Soviet Union and being launched into two civil wars. Peace was restored in 1994, but the government still remained weak. However, the economy started to repair itself and now Georgia is making substantial progress. The country has also recovered from a chronic energy shortage as a result of the war with the Soviet Union. Now Georgia relies on Azerbaijan for natural gas imports instead of Russia. Overall, the country is growing quickly and there is an effort to build infrastructure, support entrepreneurship, and provide better quality higher education.

Figure 1: GDP per capita (constant 2011 international $), 1990-2015

Source: Created by the author based on World Bank 2016

Unfortunately, for Niger, the country’s economy has stayed the same for the last 25 years due to the reasons started in the first paragraph of this section. Georgia’s economy has made substantial progress since gaining their independence in 1991 and the country is continuing to grow at an exponential rate.

Figure 2: Life Expectancy at Birth (total years) 1970-2015

Source: Created by the author based on World Bank 2016

Niger has made impressive strides better the lives of its citizens. Figure 2 illustrates that the life expectancy for the average citizen in Niger went from about 36 years of age in 1970 to 63 years of age in 2015. In total, Niger has increased the life expectancy of its citizens by 27 years in 45 years. Georgia’s life expectancy has risen at a slow and steady pace. In 1970, the life expectancy was 66 years of age and in 2015, that age had risen to 75. In total, Georgia’s life expectancy has risen 9 years in the last 45 years.

Figure 3: Adult Literacy Rates 2001-2015

Source: Created by the author based on World Bank 2016

Figure 3 represents the total amount of adult literacy rates; an adult is considered to be 15 and above. The country of Georgia has an extremely high literacy rate with about 99 percent of the country being able to read. This is greatly contrasted with the literacy rates in Niger with the literacy rates never getting above 30 percent.

 

Discussion

Statistics from UNFPA (2014 pg. 4) reveal that 17 percent of Georgian women are married before they turn 18. This is the one of the highest rates of child marriage among European countries next to Moldova at 19 percent and Turkey at 14 percent. However, most of these marriages are not officially registered so the data on this is not exactly accurate. While in Niger, three out of four women marry before the legal age according to the World Bank’s Report about child marriage in Niger.

In this discussion, there are many sides to the argument that are examined. The first subsection illustrates why child marriage still exists today and why it’s a problem. This section will also examine the many dimensions as to why child marriage exists because it is a complex and multidimensional problem. This will set up the discussion for the next four subsections. The next four subsections will go into more depth on these different dimensions. The second subsection will analyze the legal age of marriage in both Niger and Georgia and also what laws have been enacted to prevent child marriage. The third will investigate the rise or fall of adolescent fertility and the use of contraceptives. The final subsection will evaluate education. More specifically, the fourth subsection will evaluate poverty and how that relates to education. It will also report about how education and poverty are correlated.

IV.1 Why Child Marriage Exists

Child marriage is a multidimensional problem that cannot be solved overnight. It will take years of hard work and perseverance, but in the end, a better life will be provided for young girls that wish to attend school. Before diving into the discussion, it’s important to examine why child marriage exists in the first place. According to Girls Not Brides, poverty, cultural traditions, and insecurity are the reasons why this practice happens today all over the world.

Young girls in poverty are more likely to be married because their parents can’t afford the expenses of taking care of them while they’re in school. Giving away their daughter is also a way to “repay debts, manage disputes, or settle social, economic and political alliances.”

Another reason why child happens is because of gender equality. In many developing or low income countries, girls are not valued as much as boys are. Most families think of sending their son to school is a more worthwhile investment than sending their daughter to school.

Child marriage is also seen as a traditional practice. For many generations, when a girl starts to menstruate, people see her as a woman that is now worthy of a husband. The next step would be to marry her off so she can become a wife and then a mother. Most of the time these traditions go unquestioned because they are part of the community. Therefore, this adds another barrier between the problem and the reform.

Insecurity plays a major role in why young girls are married at a young age. Parents feel it’s in their best interest to marry their daughters off in order to preserve family honor. In areas of high violence and sexual assault, marriage is seen as the best alternative. In fragile states, child marriage is common because of the increased conflict and natural disasters.

IV.2 Legal Age for Marriage and Laws

According to McVeigh (2011), one girl worldwide below the age of 18 is married off every three seconds. It is against UN conventions for anyone to marry under the age of 18 and the practice has been banned in most countries. The UNFPA (2014, pg. 1) explains that anyone who is getting married under the age of 18 years old is not allowed to give full consent and is considered a violation of human rights and the rights of the child.

The UNICEF and UNFPA announced an accelerated program to end child marriage by 2030. The program will focus on increasing access to education and health care while also educating parents and the community about the dangers of child marriage. There will also be efforts to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18 years old. This program will span across twelve countries in Africa and the Middle East; where child marriage rates are the highest.

During the 1990s, young girls were married off early because bride kidnapping was a prevalent thing in Georgia. Parents would marry their daughters early in order to prevent them from being kidnapped. This way, they were able to find their daughter a suitable groom instead of the alternative. Parents would go as far as to pull them out of school to prevent them from the possibility of being kidnapped. Since the laws have become stricter on kidnapping, the cases of abduction have decreased immensely. Bride kidnapping rarely happens today.

Figure 4: Marriage Laws in Different Countries

Source: Khazan, Olga. “A Strange Map of the World’s Child-Marriage Laws.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 9 Mar. 2015. Arrows added by author.

Figure 4 demonstrates the marriage laws in countries around the world. In Niger, the official age for marriage is 15 years old. However, children can get married even younger due to religious practices and by the will of the parents. In Georgia, the legal age for marriage is 18. In most cases of child marriage in this country, most marriages take place illegally and are never officially registered. Therefore, the parents aren’t held accountable for marrying their daughter too early.

Only recently has Niger taken action to improve the quality of life for young women by attempting to reduce child marriage. For instance, the World Bank discussion paper on Niger states that there was an effort to enact a law that would “protect female adolescent students” by having to obtain permission from a judge for a child to marry (2016, pg. 27). Ultimately, religious leaders opposed this law and elected representatives refused to vote. Other than this attempted law, not much has been done to lower the child marriage rate.However, the president of Niger, Issoufou Mahamadou, proposes raising the official marriage age to 18.

IV.3 Adolescent Fertility and Contraceptives

UNFPA (2014 pg. 4) states, “the Reproductive Health Survey also found that some 76.6 percent of married women aged 15 to 19 years used no method of modern contraception.” The reasons for not using contraceptives were related to pregnancy, fertility, or sexual activity. However, another reason may be that there hasn’t been any exposure to to contraceptive counseling and family planning. On the other hand, a survey from UNFPA (2014 pg. 4) states that Georgian women have higher access rates to contraceptive counselling among women in other ethnic groups.

Education on reproductive health is not part of the school curriculum in Georgia. A reproductive health survey in the UNFPA (2014 pg. 4) report on Georgia found that only 3 percent of women aged 15 to 24 had learned about contraception in school before they reached the age of 18. Most of these young girls learned about sexual matters from their friends (31 percent) and their parents (26 percent). Unfortunately, most child spouses didn’t know anything about reproductive health or family planning when they got married. Most of the girls reported that they became pregnant soon after getting married. Most of the girls didn’t want to use contraceptives anyway because they are under an immense amount of pressure to have children to fulfill social expectations.

Figure 5: Modern Contraceptive Prevalence for Women Ages 15-49

Source: Created by author based on World Bank 2016

Figure 5 illustrates the amount of women that use modern contraceptives in Niger and Georgia. This information is vague and scattered, but it is evident that Georgia has a higher amount of women using contraceptives. In Georgia, women have more access to health care than women in Niger. Women in Niger are also expected to start having children at a very young age and because of this expectation, women aren’t allowed to have contraceptives.

Another reason as to why Niger’s contraceptive rates are very low is because it’s a predominantly Muslim country. Because of this, woman’s knowledge about family planning is very limited and it depends on whether she lives in a urban or rural area and her socio-economic status. However, according to Campbell, Gidi, Potts, and Zureick, since 2002, Niger has provided free contraceptives and has made efforts to promote family planning. Regrettably, contraceptive usage still remained low. In 2009, 11 percent of Nigerian women ages 15-49 were actively using contraceptive methods. Fewer than half of the 11 percent were using modern methods. The most common reason for not using contraceptives was menopause, the desire to have more children, or sterility.

Figure 6: Adolescent Fertility Rate From 1970-2015

Source: Created by the author based on World Bank 2016

Figure 6 illustrates the adolescent fertility rate in Niger and Georgia from the years 1970 to 2015. As shown, Georgia has made a few improvements to keep the adolescent fertility down. In 1970, the rate was approximately 87 children born per 1,000 women. In 2015, this number dropped to about 38 children per 1,000 children. This is due to the new child marriage laws and widespread knowledge about modern contraceptives. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case in Niger because their fertility rates haven’t gone down much in the last 45 years. In 1970, the number of children born per 1,000 adolescents was 210. Then, in 2015, this number was 201. The number of children has fluctuated between 200-215 but has still remained almost the same in the past 45 years.  The fertility rate has stayed the same because Niger hasn’t made huge efforts to educate people on modern contraceptives or introduce laws to combat child marriage.

IV.4 How Education Delays Marriage and Relates to Poverty

Education is one of the only things that can prevent girls from marrying too young and give them the support they need to succeed in life. Smith, Stone, and Kahando (2012) explain that school dropouts is a reduction of opportunities for young girls since the girl must relocate to the husbands village after marriage and start a new family. There is no hope of continuing an education after the increased responsibility of marriage. Dropouts lead to a young marriage but if girls stay in school then that is the best way to delay marriage.

Hanmer, Klugman, McCleary-Sills, and Parsons (2015) believe, “Education is not only a human right, but also a powerful tool for women’s empowerment and a strategic development investment.” There is a clear correlation between women who are educated and women who were married young. Those women with an education tend to lead healthier and happier lives. This is due to having greater economic opportunities and a higher chance of getting out of poverty.

The UNFPA report on child marriage in Georgia states that between 2011 and January 2013, 7,367 girls dropped out of school early. Jegorova-Askerova reports that there is a higher percentage of people with little to no education in the high mountain villages. This is where most of the young marriages take place. The biggest problem with Georgia’s child marriage problem is that most people don’t see this practice as a problem. It has been a widespread tradition for many years and Georgia’s child marriage laws are not widely enforced. Many people in the remote village areas in the mountains are unaware of the laws put into place and they are also ignorant to the physical and psychological health of the young girls who marry. By educating these village areas, there is a possibility child marriage can be delayed. If people are educated on the dangers and barriers of child marriage then Georgia can work to create a better life for young girls.

Figure 7: Youth Female Literacy Rates (2000-2015)

Source: Created by the author based on World Bank 2016

Figure 7 explains the literacy rates among the female youth, ages 15-24,  population in Niger and Georgia. Georgia has an impressive 99 percent literacy rate among the female youth. However, we do not know at what level the 99 percent can read at. The literacy rate might be very high due to the number of people completing a primary education. According to the World Bank 2016, there was a 100 percent completion of primary school for females in Georgia during the 2015 school year. Georgia heavily contrasts with Niger in female youth literacy rates. In Niger, literacy rates for females have consistently been below 15 percent. This is most likely due to the gender inequality between boys and girls. It is thought that girls do not have to go to school to learn how to read and write because they are going to get married and be too busy with children to do these things.

For most children that marry between the ages of 15 and 17 in Niger, their marriage does not affect their primary education. However, some girls marry earlier so they have to drop out of primary school with no hope of attending a secondary school. Male and Wodon (2016) agree with this by stating, “Marrying between the ages of 15 and 17 tends to affect primarily secondary education enrollment or completion, and may not necessarily affect the completion of primary education. But marrying even earlier can also prevent girls from completing their primary education.” A report from Save the Children (2015) states that the enrollment rate in lower secondary education in Niger was 28.8 percent. By the time these girls complete their lower secondary education, this number is down to 15.9 percent.

In Niger, girls who come from a lower socio-economic class and are from rural areas, are more likely to marry early. In fact, the Male and Wodon (2016, pg.3) explain that rural girls are four times more likely to marry than urban girls. The reason why these girls are more likely to get married earlier is because their families can’t afford to support them anymore.

Conclusion

In Niger, 76 percent of girls are married by the age of 18. In Georgia, 17 percent of the girls get married before the age of 18. Why do these countries have the same problem but to such different degrees?

Based on the GDP per capita graph (figure 1), displays the great disparity between Georgia’s and Niger’s GDP. Niger’s GDP has stayed the same for the past 25 years. This could correlate with Niger’s adolescent fertility rate (figure 6) because in the fourth subsection of the discussion, it was discussed how girls from a lower socio-economic class were more likely to get married. Another reason why Niger’s child marriage rate is so high is because there have not been any laws put into place to prevent these marriages and there is little knowledge about modern contraceptives. Until more attention is given to this issue, the child marriage rate is not going to decrease.

Georgia’s child marriage rate has dropped in the last 45 years from 78 children born every 1,000 adolescents to just 38 children born every 1,000 adolescents. This could be due to a more widespread knowledge of modern contraceptives because figure 5 shows that almost 35 percent of women ages 15-49 use modern contraceptives. Another reason why is because Georgia has enacted laws to prevent the marriage of young children that discourage parents from marrying their children. Now, the only places that practice this tradition are the very rural areas and villages in the mountains of Georgia. All in all, because of the attention child marriage in Georgia has gotten, these rates are starting to decrease and in the near future, child marriage may be eradicated from the country all together.

This article was written to highlight the deep and complex issue of child marriage, and this article only examines two countries. While these countries may be polarized, the same factors influence their rates of child marriage. By giving attention to the dangers of  this problem, we may come one step closer to abolishing child marriage and giving girls a chance to lead a life without poverty and worry of the psychological and physical dangers of this tradition.

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