LILONGWE, December 11, 2018 — Agnes Bowa, a secondary school teacher in Malawi’s commercial capital Blantyre, can attest to the life-changing value of educating girls. She comes from a family of nine – with six girls. She and her sisters all have a post-secondary education, herself a graduate of the University of Malawi.
“I see from my family experience that those of us who got a university education have a maximum of two children,” she said. “My husband and I agreed this was a good number to enable us and our children have a better quality of life.”
Bowa’s experience is an example of the value of educating girls explored in the eighth edition of the Malawi Economic Monitor (MEM): Investing in Girls’ Education.
In Malawi, nearly four in 10 girls marry before the age of 18, and three in 10 girls have their first child before the age of 18. In part as a result, the completion rate for secondary school for Malawian girls remains very low. The MEM notes significant negative impacts of perpetuating child marriage and the lack of education for girls such as lower earnings for women, higher population growth, substantial health risks, higher intimate partner violence, and higher poverty. The country consequently loses hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits, according to the report.
Economic benefits of ending child marriages and educating girls
One of the largest economic benefits from ending child marriage and educating girls would result in an estimated .21 percentage point reduction in annual population growth, the report notes, thereby increasing standards of living and lowering poverty. Those benefits grow quickly over time; according to the report, ending child marriage today could generate benefits of about half a billion dollars (in purchasing power parity) per year by 2030.
The report points out that another large economic benefit of ending child marriage is women would earn more, thanks to the opportunity for higher educational attainment.
“If women who had married as girls had been able to delay their marriage, their annual earnings today could have been higher by an estimated $167 million,” said Quentin Wodon World Bank Lead Economist and co-author of the report. “Ending child marriage and educating girls is not only the right thing to do, it is also a smart investment.”
The risks of young children being stunted or dying by age five due to child marriage and teen pregnancies at a young age also have large economic costs, the report says. Ending child marriage would likely result to a reduction in intimate partner violence, as young wives are more prone to violence from their partners.
Finally, by reducing population growth, ending child marriage would reduce the pressure that providing basic services puts on the national budget. The savings could be invested to improve the quality of public services. “If we can’t reduce the current population growth rate, we will face enormous pressure on limited land resources and on the delivery of services, making our fight against poverty even much harder than it is now. This action can no longer wait,” said Bright Msaka, Malawi’s Minister of Education, Science and Technology. The Minister said this could in turn affect the country’s progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals.
Msaka notes that to delay the age at first marriage and childbearing, adequate laws need to be put in place as a first step. He says it is for this reason that in 2017, the government amended the age of a child in Malawi from 16 to 18 years old, an historic achievement in the process to outlaw child marriage.
The MEM estimates that even greater reductions could be achieved if all girls completed secondary education. Beyond legal improvements, the government has also launched a national strategy to end child marriage in the country which will help implement targeted interventions that alleviate constraints to girls’ education and expand opportunities for adolescent girls to fulfil their potential.
Beyond the steps the government has taken, the MEM 8 calls for greater investment in girls’ education, providing economic opportunities for girls who are out of school and cannot go back to school, and imparting adolescent girls with life skills and reproductive health knowledge.
“We must engage families to take advantage of the opportunities created for girls’ advancement,” Msaka said.