Child marriage: An obstacle to socio-economic development in sub-Saharan Africa




Africa is among the regions in the world with a high rate of child marriage. In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the minimum legal age for the marriage of girls is still under 18 years. Although ending child marriage is now one of the goal targets of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of Gender Equality (goal 5), investment to end the practice remains limited across Africa. Apart from its negative impact on the physical growth, health, and mental and emotional development of a girl child, it is also linked to the unequal position of women in society, and limits their access to owning property, formal employment, and education. Girls who marry young are more likely to be poor and remain poor. Child marriage affects the entire society, as it reinforces a cycle of poverty and perpetuates illiteracy and malnutrition, as well as a high infant and maternal mortality rate. Furthermore, child marriage undermines the achievement of eight (or almost half) of the 17 SDGs. This article examines the socio-economic impact of child marriage in Africa. It considers five domains of impact, namely lost opportunity to grow; cost facing healthcare systems; lost education and earnings; lower growth potential, and the perpetuation of poverty. It seeks to establish a link between child marriage and the socio-economic status of African states. The article argues that women and girls constitute over 50 per cent of the African population and give birth to the other 50 per cent. Therefore, their interests must be protected to ensure the development of the African continent.


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