There is overwhelming evidence that establishes that child marriage during adolescence can send girls into a downward spiral. Quality secondary education is the first step to supporting their empowerment. Qualitative interviews with community members conducted in a tribal area of Andhra Pradesh revealed that the schools within their community had no facilities and the children were not willing to go outside to study.
When questioned a community member replied
‘We live in poverty … if somebody does further study and becomes a Collector or something, other children would get inspiration to pursue education. But we are so poor that we have to work every day as daily wage labourers to survive. If we don’t go to work even for a single day, we end up starving. In such circumstances who has time to pursue studies.. there is nobody who has studied further than 10th Grade’.
It is important that adolescent boys and girls from the poorest households living in disadvantaged and remote locations are given relevant education and skills that will provide them a suitable livelihood. The current secondary school curriculum is not necessarily aligned to the job market and skills demanded in the formal sector and only about 6% of women employed are in the formal sector with social benefits, such as pensions or maternity leave – factors that can influence participation and a persisting gender wage gap .
To ensure access to quality secondary schooling for the most disadvantaged girls and provide them with the requisite skills to enter the labour market, it is absolutely necessary to expand the mandate of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2010 to the age of 16. Of course ideally all children between the ages of three and 18 should be covered under the Act. But expanding to 16 would be a huge step in the right direction – and would help girls out of poverty.