How child marriage harms agricultural productivity
This month (October 2019), Agrilinks is exploring the intersection of gender and agriculture. Child, Early, and Forced Marriage (CEFM or “child marriage”) is a form of gender-based violence which can also harm agricultural productivity. Yet this connection between child marriage and agricultural productivity is not often discussed.
Child marriage is a global challenge that impedes our progress across all sectors of society, including agriculture. Seven hundred and twenty million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday, and each year, 12 million additional girls are married before they turn 18 years old. That’s the equivalent of 23 girls every minute or nearly one every two seconds. Furthermore, girls in rural communities tend to marry or enter into union at twice the rate of girls in urban communities.
Child marriage is fueled by many complex and localized factors: poverty, lack of education, tradition, insecurity, and lack of positive coping mechanisms to shocks and stressors. Gender inequality and a devaluation of girls and women underlie all factors that contribute to the practice of child marriage. In some cases, families genuinely believe they are protecting their daughter by making her marry young. In other cases, girls are treated as a commodity or as a burden. In times of crisis, girls are seen as a drain on a family's scarce resources and best married in return for a dowry in countries where dowry is practiced. In countries facing drought, there have been spikes in the rate of child marriage.
To understand the significance of child marriage in agriculture and rural communities, we need to look at child marriage’s broader negative effects.
Child brides can face a lifetime of challenges from marrying at such a young age. They are more likely to become pregnant before their bodies are fully developed. Ninety percent of adolescent births in the developing world are to girls who are married or in a union. This contributes to high fertility rates and places a higher care burden on girls who, because of their age, lack the financial, physical, and informational resources, and the agency to adequately care for their growing family. Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among 15 to 19-year-old girls globally. Girls who marry before the age of 15 are almost 50 percent more likely to have experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner than girls who marry after 18. In addition, child marriage typically ends a girl’s formal education. Girls’ new role as a wife and potentially as a mother often brings expectations that she will stay at home to take care of the home and family, and in rural communities, child brides are expected to leave school to cultivate land and collect natural resources.
While agriculture and specific crops can be highly gendered, in general, women are heavily involved in cultivating, harvesting, and processing food and bringing it to market. Yet women farmers are typically not as productive as men because of more limited access to land, markets, farming technologies, fertilizer, credit, and training. Child marriage only further constrains women’s productivity. Lack of education, increased care responsibilities, health issues, and imbalanced power dynamics shrinks access to land and other assets, resources, and information. This results in a vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty, leading to poor health outcomes, a lack of education, vulnerability to violence, and insufficient economic opportunities.
Removing the production constraints on female farmers, including removing the exacerbating challenges that child marriage imposes on adolescent girls and young women could increase their farm yields by 20-30 percent, feeding an additional 150 million people.
Ending child marriage is a human rights imperative. It will empower rural women and girls to become more productive and healthy future farmers and active participants in civil society. Enhancing women's and girls’ education and bargaining power will also help young mothers provide proper nutrition for their children and families. In addition to working to end child marriage, the international development community must support and partner with local governments and communities to ensure that the needs of adolescent girls and women who were married as children are met. Girls who marry young need targeted and increased support, including better access to agricultural resources and training; reproductive, nutrition, and maternal health services; enforcement of their legal property and inheritance rights; and even second-chance education programming.
What can the agriculture sector do to help end child marriage?
- Integrate messaging about the harm of child marriage into agriculture extension or nutrition programs, for both men and women, or boys and girls
- Target economic empowerment activities in communities with a higher prevalence of child marriage
- Engage female farmers in higher value crops and value chains
- Foster women’s agricultural associations, and build in lessons about child marriage
- During environmental shocks like drought, target support to communities where there is a greater risk of families using early marriage as a coping mechanism
- Include guarantees to keep girls in school and out of early marriage as a requirement of cash transfer programs
- Promote and enforce land and property rights reforms that benefit women and girls
- Conduct gender analyses during the design of all programming, and identify locally appropriate opportunities to engage the agriculture sector in ending child marriage
What can agriculture communities of practice do to integrate the needs of child brides into agriculture programming?
- Involve women and girls, especially those who married young, in designing agricultural programs
- Provide agricultural skills training to women who married young
- Provide financial literacy and savings training and opportunities
- Ensure young mothers and child brides receive agricultural assets
- Engage female farmers in higher value crops and value chains
- Target child brides with nutrition education and support
- Link agriculture programs to health, protection, and education services
- Develop agriculture information and services with young mothers and child brides in mind
- Conduct gender analyses during the design of all programming (including activities), and identify the local needs of child mothers and brides to which the agriculture sector can respond
- Collect data including age, marital, and maternal status to support child marriage sensitive agriculture gender analysis, design, and monitoring/evaluation
The global community has an opportunity to re-envision the potential and value of girls. But this can’t happen without taking on child marriage. Now is the moment for the global community to re-envision the potential of rural girls. This begins with recognizing their value and giving them the tools and opportunities that will empower them and allow them to succeed.
To learn more, read the blog - The Role of Gender in Agriculture.
To learn specifically about child marriage, read - USAID Child, Early, and Forced Marriage Resource Guide.
- Girls Not Brides. 2019 “What is Child Marriage?”
- Loaiza, Edilberto and Sylvia Wong. 2012. “Marrying Too Young. End Child Marriage”. UNFPA
- UN Women. 2017. “Rural women tackle drought-affected Mozambique’s rise in child marriage.”
- North, Amy. 2010. “Drought, Drop Out And Early Marriage: Feeling The Effects Of Climate Change In East Africa.” Girls Not Brides
- Chamberlain, Gethin. 2017 “Why climate change is creating a new generation of child brides.” The Guardian.
- Girls Not Brides. 2019. “What is the impact of Child Marriage: Health”.
- Who Health Organization. 2018. “Adolescent Pregnancy”.
- Girls Not Brides. 2019. “What is the impact of Child Marriage: Education”.
- FAO. 2011. “Closing the Gender Gap in Agriculture.”
- Girls Not Brides. 2019 “Taking action to address child marriage: the role of different sectors. Food security and nutrition” Brief 6.