• Reports which are showing that the number of early marriage or child bride is on the increase has been giving experts serious concerns. Among several factors responsible for this unfortunate development are lack of or poor education and economic opportunity which make girl children vulnerable, writes FWANSHISHAK DANIEL

So much is taken for granted when education is considered an end in itself and as a solution to life issues; in this particular instance to the problem of early marriage and child brides. There is so much “evidence” and so much “data” supporting the correlation between more education for girls and improvement of social standing and empowerment for girls. Education is imbued with the almost magical power to “lower maternal mortality, improve children’s health, lower birth rates and help women to find jobs – which in turn boosts economies”. And whenever such data and research are quoted, the experts are careful not to mention the rising rates of unemployment, underemployment and the gross inequalities and corruption that belie the situation of girls and women in at risk countries like Nigeria.
It is important that all stakeholders acknowledge the role of poverty and absence of opportunities especially in education, agriculture and other economic opportunities and link these issues to the unfortunate perpetuation of early marriages and child brides. The crisis we face is not only in the education sector. These girls, their parents, their husbands and their communities are all victims of a failed system. There is the need to work towards ending economic wastages and continued marginalisation and skewed allocation of wealth and opportunities in our communities.
Other sectors of the economy and the society will have toprioritise education for girls as crucial to their respective endeavours and part of their sustainability plans. Lack of education is not just hurting girls; but because agriculture, health systems, small scale businesses, justice and government systems, and education all fail, girls are mostly the opportunity cost in the short term. In the long run, their lack of education is what is responsible for huge system failures culminating usually in crimes, violence and conflicts. So it is in the end a self-reinforcing circle.
Our society should refocus attention on education of girls and for all, not as an end in itself, but as a system-support and strengthening process focusing on investing in agriculture, healthcare delivery, business and economic activities, justice and governance. These sectors have to invest in education not in the current traditional sense of building more classes and toilets or in training more teachers or even in school feeding schemes – but in opening up more opportunities for employment and investment. This will clear the existing glut in the labour market and give actual material value to education.
Expanding opportunities in employment and investments will directly benefit education and the society in many ways. In particular, it will help in ensuring that previous investments in education do not go to waste. It will also help in strengthening and increasing the yield and productivity of the economy. Doing this will guarantee more revenue and resources for further investment in education and improve on the quality of life and health of individuals and their communities. It could also deescalate tension and eliminate conflicts and war and provide opportunities to measure the quality of education against the identified needs of respective sectors of the economy.
Other benefits would include the narrowing of the gender gap in communities and other traditional forms of inequality. It will further lead to a significant reduction in diseases and improvement in health care delivery. It will enhance national security, strengthen international relations and the capacity for global partnerships and make a new world possible.
Making this happen does not require extra investment in education, at least, nothing more than what is currently being poured into desperate education interventions that do not seem to be yielding corresponding results. There will simply be the need to form a coalition of stakeholders in education to look into a new areas of expanding employment and business opportunities as direct investment in expanding education delivery. For example, current businesses and philanthropic investment in education can be channelled towards providing remedial training and skill acquisition for job placements for women.
Community health interventions should invest more in training local women and equipping them with skills and knowledge to manage community health issues rather than recycling existing manpower in the civil service that do not reside in the intervention communities.
Food and other relief interventions in conflict areas must explore ways of establishing viable agricultural and economic opportunities in conflict areas and train (refugees/displace persons) beneficiaries to work in these areas as part of their sustainability and resettlement plans.
Companies and multinational corporations can pay their taxes in “employment slots” for women and other disadvantage groups; this will increase their production and open up opportunities down the chain for education.
Agro allied companies that import raw materials for local production can sign contracts with local/rural communities and farmer cooperatives to produce and provide the needed raw materials. This will ease of the pressure on foreign exchange and provide more employment in rural areas. The additional revenue local farmers get from these opportunities can be used to provide education for their children, support their families, reduce over dependence on government interventions; it can also be taxed by the government to support the education and other sectors of the economy.
Government education departments and agencies, international development partners and other stakeholders interested in education can work with other economic sectors to focus on investment opportunities and employment drives as crucial to strategy for eradicating early marriages and child brides, as well as for conflict management, improving community health care and ensuring justice and good governance.
For education to succeed and make sense to the already disadvantaged groups in the society, it must be seen to be directly related to economic empowerment, justice and equity. Once this is done, societies will embrace education not as an end in itself but as a way to promoting the choice of good values as well as for the opportunities it provides them.
This will continue to improve until people are educated enough to want education as an end in itself and respect for the rights of girls and women become the norm. Unless clear opportunities are made available, child marriage and child-brides might just continue to grow.

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Daniel is a Teacher and Teacher Trainer in education and community development.
[email protected]

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