Programs that educate Bangladeshi girls, teach them about their rights, and build their skills for modern livelihoods can reduce child marriage in Bangladesh by up to a third, a study by the Population Council finds.
The Population Council's Bangladeshi Association for Life Skills, Income, and Knowledge for Adolescents (BALIKA) project, a randomized forty-month trial involving nine thousand girls, found that those who received tutoring in math and English were 31 percent less likely to become child brides than girls in the control group, while girls who received life skills training related to gender rights and negotiation, critical thinking, and decision making, and those who received training in entrepreneurship, mobile phone servicing, photography, and basic first aid were 31 percent and 23 percent less likely to be married before the age of 18. Girls enrolled in the project met weekly with mentors and peers in safe, girls-only locations, where they were able to develop friendships, borrow books, and acquire the skills needed to navigate the transition from girlhood to adulthood.
The study found that the programs also led to better health, educational, economic, and social outcomes for participants, who were 18 percent more likely to be enrolled in school. Girls who received educational support and gender rights awareness training were 20 percent more likely to have improved their math skills, while those who received gender rights awareness or livelihoods skills training were one-third more likely to be earning an income at the end of the study.
Recommendations for efforts to reduce child marriage based on the project's findings (4 pages, PDF) include designing programs based on the local cultural context, reaching girls at an early age, providing them with life skills training, creating girl-centered platforms, engaging the community, and utilizing technology.
"The BALIKA results show that programs which build girls' skills and knowledge and elevate their visibility and status in their families and communities while keeping them safe can significantly reduce the average child marriage rate in the community," said Sajeda Amin, Population Council senior associate and lead researcher on the study. "If we want to effectively reduce child marriage in Bangladesh, we must employ new approaches that empower girls, engage her family and her community so she is seen as an asset, not as a liability."