The Council is evaluating approaches to prevent child marriage and improve life opportunities for girls in rural Bangladesh.
Despite significant progress in many gender and reproductive health indicators, two out of three girls in Bangladesh are married before the legal age of 18. Most become mothers while they themselves are still children. When girls are married early, they are more likely to drop out of school, be unemployed and experience violence and harassment. Even as adults, women who marry early are often at a disadvantage – they are more socially isolated, poorer and less educated. A delayed marriage greatly improves a girl’s chances for a healthy and productive life. And the benefits of a later marriage go beyond the girl: her children, family, community and country experience better health, economic and social outcomes.
The BALIKA project is a four-arm randomized controlled trial to evaluate whether three skills-building approaches to empower girls can effectively delay the age at marriage among girls aged 12–18 in parts of Bangladesh where child marriage rates are at their highest.
More than 9,000 girls in 72 communities participated in the BALIKA project. Communities were assigned to one of three intervention arms:
- Education support: girls received tutoring in mathematics and English (in-school girls) and computing or financial skill training (out-of-school girls).
- Lifeskills training: girls received training on gender rights and negotiation, critical thinking and decision making.
- Livelihoods training: girls received training inentrepreneurship, mobile phone servicing, photography and basic first aid.
- Another 24 communities served as the control arm of this study: no services were provided in those communities.
All girls participating in the BALIKA project met weekly with mentors and peers in safe, girl-only locations, called BALIKA centers, which helped girls develop friendships, receive training on new technologies, borrow books and acquire the skills they need to navigate the transition from girlhood to adulthood. Girls would use these skills within their communities, helping to build their confidence, demonstrate their achievements, and elevate their profiles.
To measure the impact of each package in relation to the others and to the control group, a baseline survey was conducted before the program was implemented, and an endline survey will be conducted after the program has been in place for 18 months.
BALIKA results show that programs that educate girls, teach them about their rights and build skills for modern livelihoods can reduce the likelihood of child marriage by up to one-third in Bangladesh and produce better health, educational, economic and social outcomes for girls.
The BALIKA project continued in many communities where it was first established for two years after the project officially ended. BALIKA centers are being run by the teachers, mentors and community leaders who participated in the project. These centers will help empower thousands more girls by continuing to offer skills, provide education support and build confidence so girls have a reason to look toward the future.
In 2017, the Population Council, in collaboration with UNFPA and the Bangladesh Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, began work on an initiative to introduce BALIKA centers in two new districts. These activities are a part of a broader program to scale up approaches that have been proven successful in delaying marriage by providing technical assistance and building capacity to promote evidence-based approaches across the country.