As it turns out, a whole lot. The Ford Foundation recently made a $25 million commitment to end child marriage in developing countries, and according Foundation president Luis Ubiñas, "Our ability to tackle the central issues affecting women and families in developing countries — from reproductive health and education to ending poverty and increasing opportunity — begins with the end of child marriage." Mr. Ubiñas would like to make that happen in the next generation.
Ford is focusing its attentions on India, Nigeria, Egypt, Central America, Southern Africa, and West Africa. $25 million is a lot of dough, but that's also a lot of ground to cover, not to mention decades upon decades of traditions to break. Unacceptable traditions, as the majority of the world see it, but traditions nonetheless. Changing lives may be a bit easier than changing minds. However, Ford's approach is to do both by changing the laws and the foundation has UN agencies such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Girls Not Brides, the Novo Foundation, and The Elders among others. It's a veritable league of extraordinary foundations (and people). Well played, Ford.
Related: David Kaimowitz
So, back to the question at hand — what does child marriage have to do with economic opportunities? The first thing we have to understand is that adolescent girls ages 10 to 19 comprise around 20-25% of many developing countries' total populations. According to Ford, over 10 million of these adolescent girls are married off, and an estimated one in seven of these girls hasn't even reached her 15th birthday.
In industrialized nations, one may think that if adolescent girls comprise 20-25% of the population, it would be safe to assume that around the same percentage of girls would significantly contribute to the local and national economies when they reach adulthood. That may be a safe assumption for industrialized nations, but in developing countries such as India (which has one of the world's largest populations of adolescent girls), the assumption cannot be made.
The vast majority of girls who are victims of childhood marriage drop out of school. With little or no formal education, the income earning opportunities are limited if not near non-existent. According to the Population Reference Bureau, one year of elementary or primary school can increase a women's wages later in life by 20%. If that same child was to continue on to high school, their income increases by 25%.
The income that these child brides could potentially earn not only helps these women's families out of poverty, but also puts money into local economies, increasing economic development opportunities, which then increases employment opportunities. And that, my friends, is what ending child marriage has to do with economic opportunities.