A significant number of girls are married as children, which negatively impacts their health, education, and development. Given the sheer numbers of girls at risk of child marriage globally, the challenge to eliminate the practice is daunting. Programs to prevent child marriage are typically small-scale and overlook the costs and scalability of the intervention.
This study tested and costed different approaches to preventing child marriage in rural Burkina Faso and Tanzania. The approaches tested were community dialogue, provision of school supplies, provision of a livestock asset, a model including all components, and a control arm. A quasi-experimental design was employed with surveys undertaken at baseline and after 2 years of intervention. We examined the prevalence of child marriage and school attendance controlling for background characteristics and stratified by age group. Programmatic costs were collected prospectively.
Among those in the community dialogue arm in Burkina Faso, girls aged 15 to 17 years had two-thirds less risk (risk ratio [RR]=0.33; 95% confidence interval [CI]=0.19, 0.60) of being married and girls aged 12 to 14 years had a greater chance of being in school (RR=1.18; 95% CI=1.07,1.29) compared to the control site. In Tanzania, girls aged 12 to 14 years residing in the multicomponent arm had two-thirds less risk of being married (RR=0.33; 95% CI=0.11, 0.99), and girls 15 to 17 in the conditional asset location had half the risk (RR=0.52; 95% CI=0.30, 0.91). All the interventions tested in Tanzania were associated with increased risk of girls 12 to 14 years old being in school, and the educational promotion arm was also associated with a 30% increased risk of girls aged 15 to 17 years attending school (RR=1.3; 95% CI=1.01, 1.67). Costs per beneficiary ranged from US$9 to US$117.
The study demonstrates that minimal, low-cost approaches can be effective in delaying child marriage and increasing school attendance. However, community dialogues need to be designed to ensure sufficient quality and intensity of messaging. Program managers should pay attention to the cost, quality, and coverage of interventions, especially considering that child marriage persists in the most hard-to-reach rural areas of many countries.