Annet Nyaburu is only 18 years old, but she is a mother of two boys, aged 4 and 3. At 13, she fell pregnant and dropped out of school after her mother, a widow, decided she was better off married to the father of her child to secure her future.
Towards the end of last year, she left her sons in the care of her mother, bought a one-way bus ticket from the eastern city of Mbale, and found work as a housemaid in Namugongo, a residential suburb of Kampala, the capital of Uganda.
“Life got unbearable,” she says of her marriage now, a note of determination in her voice, “as there was not much to eat, and the man would come home drunk and sometimes beat me up. I don’t regret leaving him because I am now earning some money, which I send home to my mother to look after the children.”
Defined as formal or informal unions made before the age of 18, or having a first child before the age of 18, child marriage and early childbearing remain common in Uganda despite legislation against them. As many as three in ten Ugandan girls have their first child before their 18th birthday; more than a third marry before the age of 18. In turn, both child marriage and early childbearing lead girls to drop out of school prematurely.
The World Bank’s 10th edition of the Uganda Economic Update estimates the negative impact of child marriage, early childbearing, and the low educational attainment of the many girls affected by the two, on a wide range of development indicators.
According to the report, close relationships exist between child marriage, teen pregnancy, and the low level of education reached by large numbers of girls. It shows that child marriage is likely to be the cause of more than half of babies born to under 18s in Uganda, so that ending it could reduce early childbearing by the same amount.
It also shows that both child marriage and early childbearing force girls to drop out of school. According to parents and principals interviewed in surveys, early pregnancy and marriage are major reasons for this.
Uganda’s fertility rate stands at 5.9 children per woman, above the Sub-Saharan average of 4.8. This high fertility rate is attributed in part to the low use of contraceptives, but high rates of child marriage and early childbearing also play an important role.
Ending child marriage would reduce fertility by 8 percent nationally, and could lower the country’s overall population growth rate of 3 percent by 0.17 percent. If child marriage were ended today, it is estimated that the benefit—in terms of the higher standards of living that would be generated thanks to lower population growth—would reach US$2.4 billion a year by 2030.
There are other risks associated with early marriage: Girls who marry before 18 are at a higher risk of dying in childbirth. When a child is born of a mother younger than 18, research shows there is a higher risk of him or her suffering from either stunting or mortality under the age of 5. The economic benefits that resulting from a reduction of these could reach US$275 million per year by 2030.
Uganda has adopted many progressive policies and regulations to safeguard the rights of girls, but many are not enforced. Increased investment in adolescent girls could have a majorly positive impact on Uganda and accelerate its development.