The impact of eliminating primary school tuition fees on child marriage in sub-Saharan Africa

Child marriage harms girls’ health and hinders progress toward development goals. Randomized studies have shown that providing financial incentives for girls’ education can effectively delay marriage, but larger-scale interventions are needed in light of slow progress toward curbing the practice. Many sub-Saharan African countries eliminated primary school tuition fees over the past two decades, resulting in massive increases in enrolment. US_American and Canadian researchers measured the effect of these policies on the probability of primary school completion and of marriage before 15 and 18 years of age.

The removal of tuition fees led to modest average declines in the prevalence of child marriage across all of the treated countries. However, there was substantial heterogeneity between countries. The prevalence of child marriage declined by 10–15 percentage points in Ethiopia and Rwanda following tuition elimination but no evidence was found that the removal of tuition fees had an impact on child marriage rates in Cameroon or Malawi. Reductions in child marriage were not consistently accompanied by increases in the probability of primary school completion.

Eliminating tuition fees led to reductions in child marriage on a national scale in most countries despite challenges with implementation. Improving the quality of the education available may strengthen these effects and bolster progress toward numerous other public health goals.

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