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Dealing with Child Marriages on the Continent

Africa’s sub-Saharan region is home to nine of the ten countries with the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Ingrained traditions and cultural practices typically entrench such early marriages. State or customary laws in 146 countries allow girls younger than 18 to marry with the consent of their parents or other authorities. In 52 nations, girls under 15 can marry with parental consent. Today, the practice is declining thanks to national and international policies, global treaties and, since 2016, the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage. But gains have been slow in sub-Saharan Africa. Using statistical analysis, researchers looked at the socio-economic and demographic determinants of early marriage among young women the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Malawi, Mali and Niger. Each of the four countries has sought to introduce measures to discourage early marriage, but their challenges remain formidable. They explored several possible explanations and variables: age at first intercourse, education and literacy, women’s current age, region and type of place of residence, family wealth index, ethnicity, employment status, and even mass media exposure. One factor stands out across the four countries in their study: education. Women without formal education are more likely to marry early than those who completed secondary or higher education.