BALIKA demonstrates it is possible to reduce the prevalence of child marriage in a relatively short period of time by working with communities to implement holistic programs to build skills among girls.
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. A delayed marriage greatly improves a girl’s chances for a healthy and productive life.
The BALIKA project was a four-arm randomized controlled trial that evaluated 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 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.
The program was implemented over an 18-month-period from February 2014 to August 2015. Results found girls who were single at the beginning of the study were one-fourth less likely to be married by the end of the study. In an intent-to-treat analysis, each intervention showed that it was possible to significantly delay child marriage in comparison to control communities:
- Girls who received educational support were 31% less likely to be married as children
- Girls who received life skills training on gender rights and negotiation, critical thinking, and decision-making were 31% less likely to be married as children
- Girls who received livelihoods training in entrepreneurship, mobile phone servicing, photography, and basic first aid were 23% less likely to be married as children
The evaluation also studied impact of its three intervention approaches on other indicators that affect education, health, and social outcomes later in life. All three interventions had similarly successful outcomes. Compared to girls outside BALIKA communities, girls participating in the program were more likely to be attending school, have improved mathematical skills, and earning an income.
Read more about the BALIKA endline results here.
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.
Beginning in 2017, the Population Council established partnerships with UNFPA, UNICEF, and the Bangladesh Ministry of Women and Children Affairs to expand the BALIKA program in new districts in Bangladesh empowering thousands more girls to look towards the future. 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.