Child marriage forces girls into sexual relationships for which they are not physically or emotionally prepared. It can cause them to drop out of school and it limits their opportunities for community participation, including employment. A delayed marriage greatly improves a girl’s
chances for a healthy, happy, 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.
Programs that elevate girls’ visibility and status in their families and communities, and build their skills and knowledge, have been shown to delay marriage in different parts of the world. However, in Bangladesh, where efforts to prevent child marriage have focused on the enforcement of laws and policies, little research exists on what approaches work best to delay marriage and why.
To help fill this evidence gap, in 2012 the Population Council and partners embarked on a four-year study to understand whether skills-building approaches to empower girls can delay marriage in Bangladesh communities where child marriage rates are highest in three districts in southern Bangladesh: Khulna, Satkhira, and Narail. The BALIKA project implemented a randomized controlled trial involving more than 9,000
girls aged 12–18 in 72 intervention communities and 24 control communities within three districts of Bangladesh to determine what works to delay child marriage. This is the first rigorously evaluated study to provide evidence on approaches to delay child marriage in Bangladesh.
Communities were assigned to receive one of three intervention strategies in the trial for 18 months.
EDUCATION: Girls received tutoring in mathematics and English (in-school girls), and
computing or financial training (out-of-school girls).
GENDER-RIGHTS AWARENESS TRAINING: Girls received life skills training on gender
rights and negotiation, critical thinking, and decision-making.
LIVELIHOODS SKILLS TRAINING: Girls received training in computers, entrepreneurship,
mobile phone servicing, photography, and basic first aid.
In the 24 communities that served as the control group of the study no program services were provided. This group was necessary to determine whether girls receiving services had a benefit compared with girls who received no services. To measure the impact of each intervention strategy in relation to the others and to the control group, a baseline survey was conducted before the project was implemented, and an endline survey was conducted after the project had been in place for 18 months. All girls participating in the BALIKA program 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 used these skills within their communities, which
helped build confidence, demonstrate their achievements, and elevate their profiles.
BALIKA results show that programs that educate girls, build their skills for modern livelihoods, and engage their communities can reduce the likelihood of child marriage by one third and produce better health, educational, and social outcomes for girls. Girls living in BALIKA communities were one-third less likely to be married as children (0.69–0.77 relative odds adjusted for age, religion, and family wealth status) than girls living in communities not reached by the BALIKA program.
Girls who were single at the beginning of the study were one-fourth less likely to be married by the end of the study (0.76-0.78 relative odds adjusted for age, religion, and family wealth status). Each intervention showed that it was possible to significantly delay child marriage:
In BALIKA communities where girls received educational support, girls were 31% less likely to be married as children at endline than girls in the control communities.
In communities where girls received life skills training on gender rights and negotiation, critical thinking, and decision-making, girls were 31% less likely to be married as children at endline than girls in the control communities.
In communities where girls received livelihoods training in entrepreneurship, mobile phone servicing, photography, and basic first aid, girls were 23% less likely to be married as children at endline than girls in the control communities.
In addition to delaying child marriage, the evaluation studied the impact of its three intervention approaches on a range of 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, the study found that girls participating in the program were:
more likely to be attending school.
20% more likely to have improved mathematical skills if they received education support and gender-rights awareness training.
one-third more likely to be earning an income if they received gender-rights awareness or livelihoods-skills training.
These results are from an intent-to-treat analysis, in which the impact of each intervention strategy on child marriage is measured among all girls who live in the community, not just those girls who participated in the BALIKA program.