Journal Article

Skills-building programs to reduce child marriage in Bangladesh: A randomized controlled trial

Purpose
Child marriage is the norm in Bangladesh, leading to lifelong negative consequences. Evidence on sustainable child marriage programs is scant. Our study aimed to evaluate the impact of three community-based skills-building programs to delay child marriage among adolescent girls in rural Bangladesh.

Methods
The study used a cluster randomized controlled trial design with four arms—ARM1 offered educational support, ARM2 promoted gender rights awareness, ARM3 offered livelihoods training, and ARM4 was a control area. All adolescent girls were offered 144 hours of skills training in village centers over 18 months. Among 11,609 baseline survey respondents, 91% were successfully included in the endline analysis. Program impact was assessed using discrete time hazard models.

Results
The program reduced child marriages (<18) significantly in all arms relative to control—(adjusted hazard ratio [AHR]: .75; 95% confidence interval [CI]: .60–.92) for the education arm, (AHR: .72; 95% CI: .59–.88) for the gender arm, and (AHR: .70; 95% CI: .56–.87) for the livelihoods arm. Program participants were younger and more likely to be in school and faced lower risk of marriage relative to nonparticipants. In the gender and livelihoods arm, nonparticipants had lower risk of child marriage relative to the control group significant at the 10% level.

Conclusions
The study 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. The program had similarly large impact and did not depend on the type of skills offered.