ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Can Conditional Transfers Eradicate Child Marriage?

Child marriage is associated with a range of negative social consequences—lower schooling, early pregnancy, decreased agency within the marital household, and adverse reproductive and sexual health. With respect to the eradication of child marriages, will conditional cash transfers for delaying marriage have the same logic as the more widely investigated conditional transfer programmes for children’s schooling? Will such transfers enable adolescents to make decisions or exercise choices regarding marriage, beyond simply delaying the event?

In recent years, governments, national and international donors and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have increasingly focused attention on policies and initiatives that can effectively tackle the phenomenon of child marriage. These include: (i) schemes that transfer cash or other resources conditional on school attendance and/or marriage postponement (the Apni Beti Apna Dhan programme in India, the Zomba Cash Transfer programme in Malawi (Baird et al 2015) and the Female Secondary School Assistance programme in Bangladesh; (ii) programmes to develop the capacity and ability of adolescent girls to invest in their own future, by improving life skills and expanding opportunities for education and work (the Ishraq programme in Egypt, Tostan’s Community Empowerment programme in Senegal, the Population Council’sBALIKA programme in Bangladesh (Bandiera et al 2015), BRAC’s Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) scheme in Uganda and Tanzania1 and theAdolescent Development programme in Bangladesh).

In addition, in most settings, there are efforts in place that attempt to change norms of marriage through legal bans and harsher penalties for under-age marriages. The highest rates of child marriage are typically found in low or lower middle-income countries where millions live below the poverty line. UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2016 report noted that “Girls from the poorest households—and those living in rural areas—face twice the risk of being married before turning 18 as girls from the richest households or those living in urban areas.” A recent review of existing evidence suggests that cash-based interventions are effective for ending child marriage, as are multipronged programmes that do not include incentivesrelated to marriage-timing. Which of these approaches is most effective in bringing about the desired social outcomes, is an empirical question. This, ultimately, can only be addressed through careful analyses of implemented programmes. An understanding of the theory of change which implicitly underlies these approaches is just as important, as this can help highlight potential pitfalls, both in designing and evaluating programmes. We aim to contribute to this understanding by addressing a specific question. Do conditional cash transfers (CCTs) fordelaying marriage have the same logic as the more widely investigated conditional transfer programmes for children’s schooling? And do such transfers on their own enable adolescents to make decisions or exercise choices regarding marriage, beyond simply delaying the event?

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