“Reverse Policies?” Reducing the Legal Minimum Age at Marriage Increases Child Marriage in Mali

Ewa Batyra, Center for Demographic Studies
Luca Maria Pesando, New York University (AD)

Child marriage is associated with adverse outcomes related to women’s wellbeing. To curb child marriage, many countries introduced laws that ban child marriage, and a growing number of studies evaluated the impact of these laws. Conversely, scant research focused on instances where countries lowered the legal minimum age at marriage. This is an important gap, as such “reverse policies” could result in stalled progress in eradicating child marriage. We document changes in the prevalence of child marriage in Mali where, with the introduction of the new Family Code in 2011, the legal minimum age at marriage of 18 was lowered to 16 years. We find that, following 2011, the prevalence of child marriage has been progressively increasing among women with no education: while child marriage prevalence was 59% within the last cohort of women who were subject to the legal minimum age at marriage of 18, it increased to 79% among women who were legally allowed to marry at the age of 16. Repealing existing provisions aiming at protecting girls can have adverse consequences on the most vulnerable population strata and contribute to increasing socioeconomic inequality in child marriage, resulting in diverging life-course trajectories between the most and least educated.

Keywords: Policy evaluation, Children and youth, Causal analysis / Causal estimation

See paper.

  Presented in Session 184. Strengthening the Evidence Base for Inclusive Population Policies