Consensus Building for the Most Vulnerable: Eliminating Child Marriage Globally
Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations
Deputy Director, Promundo-U.S.
Senior Fellow, United Nations Foundation; Professor of Development Sociology, Cornell University
LEMMON: So, I want to say welcome to everyone. It's really a pleasure to see -- we joked when we looked at the list that this was going to be a full room, and I said, well, the Tuesday after a holiday weekend will at least get 50 percent drop-off. And you all have proven me wrong. So I'm delighted to say that.
The -- I'm Gayle Lemmon from the Council on Foreign Relations. We have two tremendous speakers whose bios you can find, so I won't take time, but I do want to start with an interesting opening thought, which I had when you all were checking in, which is, you could either come to the child marriage event today or you could go to the QDDR event. And we were kind of profiling by the end, who's going to which?
And I actually think that part of the issue and part of what I want to talk about today is the fact that it should be one conversation, that actually part of the issue is that so many of these conversations are still seen as divorced from the broader economic and security conversations that are happening and that for real progress to be made, there has to be a consensus built that not only does this matter, but it matters for really "hard," quote, unquote, reasons that I think all too often still are overlooked.
I do think that's changing, and I know most all of you in this room are working on or talking about or doing something related to this work, so we'll certainly have that conversation. But I do still think that that is a big issue and a real challenge for moving the conversation forward, which is why the topic today is about building consensus.
I've talked to both the speakers. They've both done work with reaching out beyond people who would be natural allies, right? And we're going to start the discussion today to talk a little bit about, what are we talking about when we talk about child marriage? And then what are we talking about when we discuss the idea of moving the conversation forward?
I will say that even within very fancy rooms and very fancy buildings in your nation's capital, I have gotten e-mails -- and I'm sure many of you have -- saying, why in the world are you talking about this? This is none of your business. This is a social practice. And, you know, too bad. It's a sad thing, but too bad.
And the response is -- I guess my response is two things. One is, if you care about the Millennium Development Goals, if you care about economic development, almost every single one of them has young girls at their center, in some way, shape or form. Nutrition, mortality, education, security, all of them have girls at the center.
And it reminds me, one time I was in Afghanistan, and this quite esteemed diplomat said to me, well, I don't know why you're doing these child marriage stories, because this is just their practice and they're going to keep doing it and it sort of is what it is. And I said, well, if a 13-year-old girl who only spent three years in school knows it's wrong for her to marry a 35-year-old man, I'm pretty sure that you guys in Brussels and we in Washington should know that, too.
So from that, I will throw that out there. And I want to start with Alaka to talk about -- you've written a lot about empowerment. What does that actually mean, child marriage? What does that actually mean? And I guess when I -- when you talk about child marriage and write about it, what exactly are you talking about? And how do you see the broader (OFF-MIKE)
BASU: Is this on?
BASU: First of all, thank you very much, Gayle, for inviting me to this. It's exciting to be here, and this is -- I've only been in Washington, D.C., for a year and I'm still getting my head around the system and the power politics. I don't think I ever will, but still it's good to be able to speak to a completely different audience, an audience that's not academic in the conventional way that I'm used to, where we spend a lot of time splitting hairs and picking on details, which no one outside academia is interested in.
So it's good to be in a -- which is -- I think I find it intellectually fascinating, and I'm going to do a little bit of that now, as well. But at the same time, it's good to be in a place where one can talk about the real world and what one can do about some of the problems in the real world. We think in academia we are doing that, but we are not. We have our own language, and we are talking to one another, basically. So thank you, again, for having me here.
So what is child marriage, is your question. And that is actually my question back to you. What are we talking about when we say we want to eradicate child marriage? What is it that we mean? It's not just a question of definition. It's really a question of understanding what goes into the idea and the practice of marriage in different parts of the world. And so here, again, I will -- it is a social practice. It is a cultural practice. But -- and so I think we need cultural understanding.
I don't think we need cultural sensitivity and awareness of cultural relativism and things like that, because I think most cultures all over the world are patriarchal and sexist in a way that we shouldn't be subscribing to. So we don't need cultural sensitivity in the sense -- in the goody-goody way.
But we do need -- we do need cultural understanding to be able to actually find the best way of dealing with the question and the best way of addressing the problem and the best interventions and coming up with the best interventions that are likely to work.
So what I'm asking here, sitting here is really we need some kind of -- we need cultural understanding so that we can have a balance between what I call idealism and pragmatism. We want to be effective. We don't just want to say -- have a zero tolerance policy, say child marriage is wrong, and so we are going to stamp it out. If only it was that easy. It isn't. So we need to understand why cultures do something, how they go about it, and, therefore, what the potential interventions might be that would work.
And that's why I ask, what is child marriage? Child marriage is not -- I mean, are we talking about just the marriage ceremony, the signing of the priest or registrar's office saying that you're officially married? Or are we talking with all the other things that come with marriage, whether it is as a child or (inaudible) are we talking about cohabitation? Are we talking -- using child marriage as a proxy for cohabitation? Are we using it as a proxy for early child-bearing? Are we using it as a proxy for reduced schooling? Are we using it as a proxy for domestic violence?
So there are many ways in which we are thinking about child marriage, and it's important to think about that because in the short run, at least, while we continue to focus on eventually putting an end to this practice of at least the -- the priest-sanctioned or the registrar's office sanctioned marriage of young girls, we also need at the same time -- and maybe hopefully just in the interim -- a harm reduction strategy.
So, for instance, if it is that the cohabitation that we are worried about, maybe we should be focusing on those young girls who have got married, and at least I'll be trying to influence their families to increase the length of time between the marriage and the cohabitation. And that's possible. In many parts of the world, in South Asia in particular, there is a gap between the marriage ceremony and the cohabitation ceremony.
So marriage is, in that sense, almost what would here be called an engagement or a betrothal, except that you don't have the choice of reneging on it. You are married to that person. But you can -- you can postpone getting there.
Similarly, if it's adolescent fertility that we are concerned about, then, really, while we stop child marriage, we also should be focusing on the sexuality and birth control information to young married women, so that we have -- there is a lot of writing on sexuality and contraceptive information for adolescents, but that typically -- especially in the context of school, sex education, et cetera, tends to be focused on unmarried girls. What -- married young women, where do they go for their information and their knowledge? So that's another area that we can think about.
Domestic violence, that's again something -- and domestic violence in particular or -- and the associated risks of sexually transmitted infections, HIV-AIDS, or -- a lot of these things are not just to do with early marriage. They include the fact that a lot of early marriage means a large age gap between spouses, which means that the man in the relationship is coming with baggage into that marriage.
So is there something one can talk about greater homogamy compatibility in marriage? So there are many points at which one can think about intervening. And in the process, actually those kinds of interventions I think will eventually have an impact on the age at marriage, as well. So age at marriage is just a piece of paper. So to that extent, one needs to be thinking about the cultural differences in different parts of the world associated with marriage, and the most important ones I think are sexuality and early child bearing. So how do we go about that?
And the other thing I wanted to make -- I'm not going to say too much, because I think it's going to be opened up -- another thing I wanted to say was to do with the drivers of child marriage. I mean, there's a lot of data on that, that it's -- poverty is an important driver of child marriage. Education seems to have a very strong link. Girls who've been to primary school, but secondary school in particular tend to marry later. Urbanization is another one.
You know, some of these we can't change. We can't push all young girls into the city. But some of these we can, and in particular, I would think -- especially in the context of the post-2015 agenda -- that we push more for not the universal primary schooling that was part of the MDG agenda, but for universal secondary schooling. That itself -- if it becomes compulsory, if it becomes convenient, if it becomes good quality, that itself -- and if it becomes enforceable, that itself is a way of keeping girls in school.
So that's -- secondary schooling is certainly something those of you who have influence in the post-2015 agenda I think should think about. Before -- there are many other things I have in mind. I won't go into that, because you talk about policy later, right?
LEMMON: Yeah, so...
BASU: So I won't go into that, except to say that I can't end without doing what I always do, which is express my great pessimism about the state of the world and cynicism. So...
So I have -- this is to do -- this is to do with how one measures success. And I'm going to maybe for -- I don't know if you're going to talk about data later, so I won't say much about data, except to say -- because I do have something to say on data, but except to say that -- where you talk about unintended consequences, sometimes there are good unintended consequences. Some -- we usually talk about the bad unintended consequences of something.
But sometimes you can have good unintended consequences of bad things, and I'm thinking of right now trying to do some research on the changing age at marriage in India, for example. And you do find a rise in the changing age at marriage, except that when you look fully -- at least a part of it is being explained not by these things of education and urbanization and wealth, but the fact that young men cannot afford to get married. Women now want an employed job.
With the state of the economy coming -- getting worse, with unemployment increasing, with employment -- and the kind of employment that exists increasing, even for young men in the informal sector, in more less secure jobs, that's one disincentive to marriage.
So just because the age at marriage is rising, we should not assume that that shows that the security problems (inaudible) everything's wonderful. If anything, if one reads the literature on China and other countries where young men are not being able to get married, if you're talking about security issues at the international level, maybe one needs to also be careful about how one interprets changes in the age at marriage.
LEMMON: So that gives us a great deal to think about. And I think when you're talking about this whole issue of unintended consequences, and you're talking about the life of a girl, there are so many different points of intervention and touch points sort of along the way.
Some of you I know -- I'd just gotten some data from GiveDirectly, which is doing unconditional cash transfers to young girls, and some of what they're doing is actually -- you know, the girls are using it for schooling and gives them much more power within their family. And then what does that mean for the family, right? Because then you start to change all the dynamics, and it's positive, but it also really does start to change the equilibrium of what's going on.
I want to get to Giovanna, because you have talked a lot and written a lot about fathers and brothers and men. And one of the things I think is often left out of the decision-making is, who do we reach out to? How do we win over people who are not necessarily natural allies? And I wonder when you do your work, how you think about going and bringing in people to the fold and what kind of arguments do you make?
LAURO: Sure. First of all, thank you for having me here. And I just wanted to mention something about Alaka, who says she's (inaudible) great advocate (inaudible) it's a war machine.
And before we talk about fathers, maybe just taking a little step back. You were mentioning at the beginning, why should we care? And I would like to address that, because very often when we talk about child marriage, we -- the first image that comes to my mind is one of those beautiful images by Stephanie Sinclair, the pictures in South Asia specifically, but actually child marriage is a universal issue that goes beyond the familiar places that we think of when we think of it. And I'm talking about this, because I've been working on child marriage for a few years now in unusual places, places that are outside of the radar, and that are still very much experiencing issues in terms of child marriage.
For instance, if we look at the recent UNICEF calculations when it comes to child marriage and the size of the population of the women age 20 to 24 who are married before the age of 18, we see that after India and Bangladesh, Brazil is the third country with the biggest population in terms of absolute numbers. And Brazil is very much outside of what we usually think about a child marriage prevalent country. Even when you talk to policymakers in Brazil, the issue's not really there.
And yet when you go to the states in Brazil with the highest prevalence of child marriage, the north and the northeast, civil society, policymakers, they agree that child marriage is an issue, that there are the elements contributing to child marriage (inaudible) pregnancy, child sex exploitation, early sexual initiation of girls, child domestic labor, slavery.
So all these issues are there. It's just a question of not framing it as child marriage. And we should think about that, because obviously framing something as child marriage could add -- could add power to our advocacy on the topic. Another...
LEMMON: I'm just going -- you said (inaudible) and 42,000 girls age 10 to 14 were already married at the time of the 2010 (inaudible)
LAURO: This is according to the census, to the official census. So we're talking about official marriages. We're talking about legal unions. We're talking about unions registered by a municipality in Brazil. So between actually recent data, talk about 60,000 girls. So in that sense, that's a small number in a huge country, but it gives us a sense that in a country like Brazil, there are huge loopholes, so within the legislative framework, that need to be addressed.
Again, why should we care? Well, child marriage doesn't really happen only in middle- or low-income countries. It also happens here. It happens in Europe. I'm from Italy, and we know that child marriage cases have been registered and sometimes directly addressed in several European countries. The U.K., as many of you may know, has a forced marriage unit.
Again, the numbers are not as scaring as in the global south, but still we're talking about between 6,000 and 9,000 girls married every year against their will in the U.K. And here I'm talking about both child, as well as forced marriage, so girls over the age of 18 married against their will.
And it's also important, I think, to look at what happens outside of the global south, because all of a sudden, if we look outside of the global south, we also start looking at men. Recent studies show that about 15 percent of victims of child and forced marriage outside of the global south, specifically in Western Europe, are likely to be men. Usually we're talking about non-heterosexual men who are forced into a marriage by their families in order to cover up their sexual identity within the wider community. So, I mean, that opens up issues for the LGBT community that needs to be addressed and that are not present as they could be, in my opinion.
That brings us to our work with men. As you know, not much has been done so far in terms of engaging men and boys in child marriage programs. The International Center for Research on Women has done work in Nepal and in India. Recently, we have partnered with -- Promundo has partnered with World Vision to develop a manual to engage fathers in a program in India, and the manual is currently being pilot tested, and it will be available to be shared later this spring. But, again, we're very much at the early stages.
However, from a programmatic perspective, we do know that it makes sense to engage men and boys in the conversation around child marriage, first of all, because girls do not live in a vacuum. If we work with girls only to think about their safety, about their protection, about their possible stigmatization in case they may decide not to be married when they are supposed to.
So that's why it's important to work with fathers, because they obviously have an important voice in the marital decisions of their daughters. It's also important to work with mothers, because research shows that mothers' choices are also very important, and we need to know more about the balance. Who -- who decides what within the parental couple?
It's important, also, to work with fathers, because research shows that adolescent girls with engaged maker-givers experience very positive effects later in life. We know that they're less likely to experience violence within a relationship. We know that -- we know that they're also more likely to delay the age of the sexual intercourse. And we know also that they're more likely to look for partners who kind of mirror the maker-giver that they had, so gender equitable, non-violent fathers can have a positive outcome also later in life, in later in the life of their girls.
Finally, obviously, it's not all important to work with fathers, but it's also important to work with boys. We don't know much about boys' attitudes towards child marriage. We know a lot about girls' attitudes, especially in South Asia. But in terms of boys, I think that could be an area to be further explored, because they're going to be the husbands one day, and just as we need access to quality education for girls, we need the same for boys. Boys should also be exposed to quality sexual comprehensive education. Boys should also be exposed to information about contraceptive use.
Boys should be exposed also to information more specifically about how to be more care-giving in their lives. And when I'm talking about care-giving, I'm talking about how to be nurturing fathers in their adult lives, but also how to take up in terms of their fair share of unpaid care work at home, because if you want to promote women's economic empowerment, we need to make sure that women are not facing -- do not end up being stuck with a double bargain of working at home and working outside.
So I think a lot of our work with men, including our work on child marriage, is talking to men to discuss with them what it means to be a man, what are the harmful sides of their notion of masculinity in their community, how to address them, but also trying to think, again, not only how -- not to be violent within our relationship, how to be more gender equitable, but literally how to be more care-giving and what does it mean?
And so in our work, obviously, we -- at some point after having engaged with men for several sessions, we also aim to bring up -- to bring the girls, the daughters in the conversation, as well as the wives, again, in a protected setting, so that there are no risks for their own safety, but it is important to open up the conversation, because I think a big issue in the -- in working with men and boys when it comes to child marriage and, more in general, in gender equality is the fact that we know that there are positive effects in terms of male engagement when it comes to men's attitudes and practices around gender equality. We know much less about these effects on the girls and women's lives. So, again, it is important to include them into a conversation and also into the monitoring and evaluation of the impact of these programs.
LEMMON: And on this point, I think, you know, a lot of folks who are working on this, the discussion has gotten much farther than a lot of the data that is behind it. And I was just in India (inaudible) with some of the ICRW folks who are monitoring Abbad (ph), which is this program that paid -- basically gave parents a financial savings bond, basically, a financial tool that if the girl -- they gave a small payment at the birth, and if the girl reached age 18 unwed and alive, they would receive the payout.
And the question is now, what kind of impact does that have? And the interviews were fascinating, because a lot of people would say, well, that makes no difference to me, that payout. And then you'd say, well, why is the girl in school? Well, because if we wait until 18, then we'll get the money, but the money's not enough, because the interest rates -- I mean, for those of you working in financial services, interest rates actually moved against this payment, so it was actually much less than parents had expected. And they would complain to us at length about how much more they were owed.
And we said, look, we really -- I fully appreciate that, but I -- you know, we can't do much about that today. Would you still talk to us? They would. And parents would talk about the fact that, because the girl was home and they were waiting until 18, they sent her to school, because why not? And then they would actually get to see the girl become good at math and science, and then they'd think, well, wait a minute, maybe there's actually, you know, somebody here who has some potential in terms of not just her own life, but also the economic potential that she would bring to the family later in life.
So I just want to -- my last question for you was about -- it's a two-parter. One is unintended consequences. Do you think that there are parts of the discussion that actually have less positive consequences for girls' lives that we might think of progress? And the second piece is -- I wanted to give you a magic wand. And if you could do one thing that you would think would actually impact the discussion from a policymaker's -- fancy people in fancy rooms conversation, what would it be? What is the one number you think that actually has a greater impact than others?
Obviously, as we're talking about, the whole thing is happening in an ecosystem, so it's not that one thing is the magic bullet, but where do you see from your work the idea of the consensus and winning over people having the greatest impact?
BASU: Well, let me start a little bit with the data issue. And here actually I would be more optimistic. First of all, I think many of our estimates on the levels and trends in child marriage are seriously biased. I don't know in which direction, but they are biased by the fact that we don't, many of these countries, have good birth registration systems. We don't have good marriage registration systems. We don't have children going to school, so we don't really have a way of actually keeping track of how old they are.
And so -- and so we go by our life cycle stages almost to guess what -- where girls' ages might be. And the reason I'm saying this in an optimistic way, for example, is that at times, given the cultures that we are talking about, the fact that we are seeing very slow progress in the age at marriage might be deceptive in cultures that value early marriage.
So, for example, you might have, in fact, girls are getting married later than before, but are not admitting it. There is some evidence, for example, from Bangladesh that parents pretend that their daughters are younger than they are, so that because -- the older you are, the higher the dowry, the more difficult it is to find a spouse, so, in fact, parents can see the value in keeping girls at home, because girls are cash cows in many parts of the world where they are economically -- they have access to micro-finance or they have access to informal work or work within the home.
Parents can see that. And one of the -- and so it appears that Bangladesh is a very good example, because, for instance, we look at levels of adolescent fertility. Bangladesh is very high. It's around -- I forget the figure, but it's around 60 or 80 births per 15- to 19-year-old -- thousand 15- to 19-year-olds per year. Now, that's very high compared to even Pakistan, which is much more conservative, which has much more early marriage. Bangladesh is very high, and Bangladesh at the same time -- what has shown up as a model in how birth rates can be brought down with the right policies (inaudible) in Bangladesh is lower than it is in India.
So it's not necessarily, as we say in our child marriage work, that starting with child-bearing early means having more children than starting child bearing later. Bangladesh is a good counter-example, except that I think maybe it's not, in the sense that it is actually they are getting married later, but so the adolescent fertility is grossly overstated.
They're actually getting married later. They are starting -- and that itself is playing out in their lower fertility, because by then, they probably had a higher level of education. They probably...
(UNKNOWN): And their schooling.
BASU: Yes, their schooling levels are high. They're more likely to be in the labor force. And so you might be misjudging success also.
This is -- I'm sorry, this is the academic part of me coming in, but it is -- there are so many ways in which one can sit with the table (inaudible) something as simple as proportions married and interpret it. And as I said the first time, you might get overly optimistic, but you can also be over-pessimistic about what's happening.
And so the data problem is immense. And I think we need to think much harder in -- as part of this child marriage offensive, anti-child marriage offensive, which I think is a very legitimate and good thing to take on for girls, for the countries in which the girls live, and for the world in general.
The data issue -- the boring part of the subject, story, the data, have to be given much more importance. We need to think harder about birth registration, about marriage registration, and about these cultural differences in the meaning of marriage, and then, of course, the other unintended consequence, as you talked about, 18 is not a child. It's -- keeping a girl unmarried until the age of 18, she's an adolescent or even a young woman, in that she has sexual impulses.
So we -- what are we -- we are not -- we are ignoring that part of the thing. Are we expecting them to remain sexually untouched? Are we expecting them to get unintendedly pregnant? And then are we providing abortion services for them?
Now, these are cultures which are at least superficially -- place a great value on virginity at the time of marriage. It doesn't exist. We know -- we know that there are very high levels of premarital sex, even in the rural areas, off socially conservative countries like India, and we know that the hazards of that in the absence of sex education.
So but what are we -- if a parent asks, what are we saying? Are we saying that this girl should be denied sex? Or are we being bold and immodest enough to say that she should have sex, but have it with contraception? We need to think a bit more about when you're actually in the field, what is it that we are offering these girls besides education, schooling and jobs? What are we saying to them about their very natural sex urges? And the boys that they happen to be working with or doing -- or talking to in school or meeting outside school.
So it's not just a question of sex education, but it's really a huge change in sexual mores that we are indirectly promoting while we're asking for...
LEMMON: In a fairly short period of time, right?
BASU: And very quickly, we're trying to impose this child marriage -- so what are we saying? It's not a question of don't get married and everything will be fine, and you'll get married at the age of 18 and have your first child at the age of 19. It's not as simple as that. There are other things that are going on in young women's lives, and especially in the lives of young women living in rural conservative areas where going to school is a form of freedom that does come with -- I don't know if you call it a risk, but it comes with freedoms for sure.
So how does one make these responsible freedoms? How does one take that step from saying, you can't get married, but you can have sex, or you can't get married and you can't have sex? So these are questions, I think, that one needs to also think about when you're talking about unintended consequences, and these are very legitimate concerns that parents have out of a sense of protectiveness of their daughters, not necessarily just wanting to control their daughters, but really feeling concerned about what will happen to the girl if she becomes pregnant.
OK, the magic wand.
LEMMON: The magic wand.
BASU: The magic wand. As I just actually already said it, I think compulsory secondary school is -- if I had to choose only one thing, I would really focus on that, because that's also -- not only is it going to delay marriage, as you're saying, it's going to discover the Einsteins and the Marie Curies. And it's going to give increased psychological -- the psychological empowerment of women, and eventually hopefully increase their economic prospects, as well. So if I were to choose only one thing, I think the ripple effects of secondary school are much greater than of most other things I could think of.
LEMMON: There's one thing I want to pick up on and then go to Giovanna, which is that whole security piece. One thing we really saw -- and this is the second time I'd seen this in India -- was that you would think, I think, from my scarcity economics, scarcity makes things more precious, right, but what was happening in communities where girls were in very few -- right, and educated girls even fewer, especially in places where feticide and infanticide are skewering birth ratios, right, so maybe there's 880 girls to every 1,000 boys, what you would see is parents would crack down even harder, because they're so afraid, because the violence threat about what could happen to these girls when they leave the house is so large that parents were actually confining them even more to the house, which was not what I had expected to see.
They were even more worried about marrying them off because the sort of hotness of the commodity that was living in their house was really a threat to everybody, in their view. And so I think that that was another thing that really flipped on its head this whole idea that, you know, they -- giving them more freedom will actually be much better, because the increased mobility also brought much more threat and risk and a much broader sense of peril to not just the girl, but to her parents.
(UNKNOWN): Is she talking about rape?
LAURO: Yeah, thank you. I mean, building on what Alaka and you were saying, definitely -- especially when working with men and boys, we obviously work a lot at the community level, in terms of changing social norms. What's essential -- what comes up over and over when we do programming is that we know -- we need to also have structural changes at the same time as we change social norms. Something that fathers keep on asking when it comes to child marriages, what if I don't get my daughter married? What if she gets pregnant? What are the alternatives? What am I going to do?
So in that sense, absolutely, structural changes are needed. And this -- and because of this, obviously, it is important to frame child marriage as a key priority in the post-2015 agenda in order to put pressure on governments and also to catalyze resources to leverage current programs on child marriage.
Something that I also was thinking when we were talking about young girls and this tradeoff between marriage perceived as a protective factor by parents, but also the need for freedom of the young girls and how schooling, for instance, can offer that kind of freedoms, especially in rural areas, something interesting that I found out over the course of my research is that, again, also when we talk about girls' aspirations, it is important to think about differences in different contexts.
We know a lot, again, about girls aspirations in the global south, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and in South Asia, and we know -- we have plenty of good advocates' examples of young girls very committed to stay in school and yet getting married against their will.
What we found out recently -- I was in Brazil doing preliminary research on child marriage, and I was astonished by hearing girls talking about marriage as a protective factor for themselves, something they wanted, and considering education as not a really good choice for their future. So I think in that sense, from a social norm perspective, we need to think, what is wrong there from a policy perspective? Why is education perceived so low in the degree of aspirations for girls? There is something there to be done from a structural perspective.
Because, again, girls' aspirations should be put at the center, and we should question the reasons why they actually think that getting married to an older man is much, much better than staying in school, it's a much better life choice. So I would suggest starting from there and linking to this the one ask, the one policy ask.
I mean, I think given that Alaka has already taken care of education, which is essential, another thing, it's data -- let's invest in data for targeted advocacy. We know quite enough about child marriage programming. We don't know a lot, though. Much more is needed in terms of understanding how these programs work and how they could be improved.
And this concerns both the men and boys program, but also the rest of the programs. There are a lot of great programs out there that could benefit from a deeper and more solid evaluation. And, again, having more data is important also to look at other regions that are currently kind of off the radar.
Let's think about, for instance, about the Middle East and North Africa. We know that child marriages take place there. In Europe, the migrant communities coming from their region are the one with the highest rates of child marriage. And yet when we look at the data, official data for the Middle East and North Africa, child marriage prevalence is not that problematic. What is the issue? Why is there under-reporting? I mean, how can we improve data collection there?
In terms of also, again, other hot spots that may be neglected and where better data could help get better advocacy, let's talk -- let's think even about indigenous adolescent girls in Latin America. Again, Latin America as a whole has lower prevalence rates compared to South Asia, but within countries, there may be spots where there should be considered as hot spots. And all of you are familiar with this.
And, again, so -- in terms of data, in terms of policy ask, obviously, having a clear goal on child marriage in the post-2015 agenda, having clear indicators, and having mandated reporting on that could be a way to monitor progress and to leverage resources towards this.
LEMMON: I'm going to open it up to questions. You know, it's interesting, on the point about data, that was one of the things that Secretary Clinton pushed. There was a big event at Gallup. Some of you might have been there a year ago, July maybe, 18 months ago, July, and they're going to continue that work, right now, in terms of collecting the data.
It is entirely unsexy to talk about data and collecting numbers, right? But you can't really have the more interesting arguments about what actually works and, you know (inaudible) the QDDR room and this room have the same audiences unless people see the numbers, because that is what it always comes down to. These are nice conversations, but how do you actually make -- the data make the case for itself, in terms of the benefits?
I am sure there are questions in this room. If you want to just flip your card, that would be great. Otherwise, I will keep asking questions because I have many of them.
All right. I will go -- oh, yes?
QUESTION: When you were talking about the dangers, could you expand? Because I was imagining what you might be talking about. You mentioned pregnancy, why people -- why young women would be worried or their fathers would be worried. Is it also the growing incidence of rape and trafficking of young women? I mean, does that figure into why some families would want their -- you know, daughters married or like...
BASU: I am not sure of the connection between marriage and trafficking. Trafficking seems to occur in groups or families where it's not that it happened because the parents didn't get their girl married, because the parents -- so I'm not sure if there's a connection. I mean, trafficking is a major problem. Random violence I think is an unintended consequence that might be very important.
I mean, you just mentioned it, the fact that young girls being given the freedom to go to school or to go to work, and in a situation in particular where there is a shortage of young women or a shortage of older marriageable women, because it you're waiting for -- if a man can only marry a 19-year-old, and if he hasn't found one.
The chances of physical violence are certainly very real. I mean, you just have to read -- of course you have to read the newspapers and -- to see the -- those statistics. I don't know where they come from, but in general, you have to read the newspapers to see the daily reports of street violence or rape and things that young women are faced. That's one part of it.
But there's also -- there's also the part that -- oh -- there is also the fact that there's going to be a fair amount of voluntary sexual activity. This is the point I was trying to make, not that there's going to be just involuntary violence against women that is risky. There is going to be voluntary risky sex, as well. So that's what I was talking about.
So how does one make that -- and either -- one can't abolish it. How does one make that safe sex or postpone sex, in addition to the fact that young girls do face a heightened sense of insecurity in public spaces?
So one can talk about the usual things that public spaces should be made safer, women should be able to walk freely on the streets. I like to think about some kind of trade unionization of young girls, so that they can -- maybe if they can work in groups, do things in groups, go to college in groups, go to school in groups, they're able to assert their right to public space.
I think this question of public space is a huge one, because we are not saying that girls who don't get married should stay at home. We are saying that they should be -- nevertheless be free to have the right to occupy public space. And so how does one -- in addition to secondary schooling, I think this public space question is a very important one.
There's a lot of anthropological literature on the -- the taking over of public space by young unmarried men. And that's something -- they don't have to do anything. All they have to do is whistle at a girl going past, and that's frightening enough on a dark street. So -- but a lot of it is they do, do something. In fact, there's a word -- an English word that is used in -- while talking in Indian languages to describe what young men are doing when they're harassing young women, which it need not be sex -- it need not be rape, even lesser forms of harassment, and it's called time pass. They've got nothing to do. They don't have a job. They're not in school, so they're pass, killing time. And how are they killing time? By standing on street corners and harassing young women going past.
So that work time pass has become part of the Indian language vocabulary. Young men -- let's go out for time pass. So there are these risks which are we -- where taking on the responsibility for the safety of these young women that we say should not be getting married, is the question that I think needs to be kept in mind.
LAURO: Can I add something on the trafficking link? Again, this cause for deeper research, because we don't know much about that, but we know that, for instance, in Eastern Europe, the link between trafficking and child marriage has been made clear by some countries, in child marriage prevention policies.
And, again, in terms of unintended consequences, what we see -- again, I talk a lot about Europe, being Italian, but what we see is that it's also ambiguous, because on the one hand, it's a good tool to protect girls and women victims of trafficking, but at the same time, from a rhetorical perspective, we see that this has been increasingly used by governments to limit immigration from certain countries.
So I think when we talk about our advocacy from a global and national level perspective, we need to be very careful in terms of the messaging and, I think, a partnership like Girls Not Brides with national chapter is very well positioned, for instance, to make sure that the nuances of the discourse gets unpacked in a way that does not harm girls in the end.
LEMMON: You're on.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about, if you could unpack this word "cultural," because use culture almost in a macro way, but are we talking about religious differences? Are we talking about ideological differences, ethnic diversity? What do we know from looking at data around secular and non-secular societies? How do we go deeper than just this kind of cultural word that is often very freighted?
LAURO: Well, I mean, personally, for instance, I prefer talking about child marriage as a traditional practice, just because when I talk about it as a cultural practice, I implicitly give a sense of cultures as being something that does not change, and actually cultures do change. They're fluid beings. But however, I mean, again, it's important to stress the fact that child marriages are universal -- a universal issue that is linked to treating girls as commodities and not respecting their rights and their lives.
And as Alaka was saying at the beginning, a little bit of the kind of patriarchy mix is found across cultures throughout the world. If we think, again, about unexpected cultures, where child marriages take place, I mean, let's think about Irish travelers, Roma people, Orthodox Jews communities sometimes. So, I mean, it takes place across a wide -- also, Catholic cultures. I mean, let's think about Italy until 50 year ago or something like that, so it does take place across different cultures.
And I think it's misleading to define it therefore as a cultural issue. I don't know if Alaka is...
BASU: Yeah, culture is all these things and none of them. It's an excuse very often. I think so. So I don't -- and me personally, I don't even have any patience with trying to find different interpretations of various religions to show that women can be free. I don't have any patience with that, but that -- obviously, something that one is supposed to do, when one respects other people's religions and other people's culture's, et cetera.
So that's -- so culture -- but actually, Giovanna just said, culture is a catchall category, and it's not set in stone. So it is, in fact -- as I said, it's an excuse. It can be changed. What happens is cultures change gradually over time. As circumstances change, culture usually lags behind socioeconomic circumstances. What we are trying to do is fast forward right now.
And so when we fast forward, there will be some negative consequences, some -- plenty of resistance in the name of culture, but that is the whole point of the kinds of policies we are thinking about. And that, I think, is the whole point of what I would call liberal secular education.
That doesn't dismiss religion and religious teaching, but nevertheless says that there is something larger and more universal than an individual religion and an individual belief.
LEMMON: But it's interesting. So we talked about child marriage in the U.S. Stephanie Sinclair and I have been working on a story about child marriage in the U.S., which is coming from a lot of these cultures. And Stephanie and I were talking with -- from a woman who is in New York and an advocate, and she says she's making exactly this argument, which is that cultures are fluid, and so she goes to try to build consensus with fathers and with religious figures who are willing to hear the argument.
And they say, well, it's our tradition. She say -- well, no, it's our culture. And she said, well, did you bring over all of the same clothing that you wore? Do you -- no, you're wearing suits. I see you're wearing jeans. What music are you listening to? Is that what you were listening to at home? No. I see the music you've listened to change. I see you ate McDonalds today. Is that mean -- you know, and so you -- what her point was, was that if everything around you is fluid and changing and it's only the status of the girl that's staying the same, then let's have a conversation about that. So that's very much a discussion that's going on.
We'll go this way, go to Robin, and then we'll move down to David and come back.
QUESTION: Is it on already?
QUESTION: Actually, I think you might have begun to address my issue. I was wondering about community approaches. You talked a lot about family approaches, but what would you advocate as a better community approach? And then, also, immigrant communities and what are we doing in focusing on immigrant communities? Because they also have a special issue when it comes to child marriages that are sometimes disassociated from the larger child marriage issues.
LAURO: In terms of community approaches, I mean, Gayle was mentioning religious leaders. It is obviously essential to work with them. Again, more research is needed because we know positive examples that work and they are very much at the community level, but we know also that implementing organizations struggle when it comes to be more strategic, when it comes to find an approach that works well throughout a wider -- a wider geographical region, literally.
So it's a lot of piecemeal work. I was just watching a few days ago a very good video about engaging a religious leader in -- on issues of gender equality, caregiving, including child marriage, made by now a partner organization at Rutgers WPF in Indonesia, and, again, that's a very positive example, but it's one example. And so I think we need to understand better, what are the beliefs? How does positive deviance work? So I don't think that enough has been done yet on that area.
And as far as immigrant community are concerned, immigrant communities do experience child marriage, but very often for very different reasons compared to the regional -- the communities of origin. So I think we need to use a completely different lens when it comes to those communities, because it's much less an issue of social protection. It's much more often an issue of control of the sexuality in an environment that is changing, that is perceived as threatening by the family, so that's definitely something to consider. Again, we're talking about different issues.
And we talk about immigrant communities, but, again, it depends on the countries. I'm not super-familiar with the states. I'm looking forward to hearing more from you about that maybe later. But I know that in Europe, for instance, we talk about immigrants, but actually we're talking about citizens of immigrant origin, but these are people who have been in Europe for one, two, maybe even three generations. And actually, paradoxically, immigrants -- recent immigrants are much less favorable -- are much less in favor of child marriage than, you know, their peers with being in the country for multiple generations. At least that is what the research shows.
BASU: Yes, a quick thing. Since it's -- you asked about communities and immigrant groups. I would, in fact -- I meant to say this earlier. In the context of policy, one needs to think -- what I think is I'm all for community mobilization, et cetera, but not community -- necessarily community mobilization always at the local level, only because I think we need more scalable interventions, interventions that can reach a mass of people quickly and more easily.
And here, looking at the data, at least from a whole lot of surveys, demographic (inaudible) surveys, et cetera, not in the context of child marriage, but in the context of safe fertility or contraceptive use, the biggest predictor after education or most as strong as education, very often is exposure to the mass media. And I think if one can use the mass media more effectively, and not in terms of messaging and, again, pious message about how to be good and right, et cetera, but more exciting stuff.
I mean, the women who practice contraception or want smaller families are those who are watching these serials about the excitement of -- that women -- the consumerism that's possible for women with small nuclear households and small families, et cetera. So that's one part of the -- I think the mass media tremendously under utilized for the social good. But they need to be done sensibly in, unfortunately, the market-oriented way that appeals to most people.
But in addition to that, there's one specific example I had where the mass media I think can play a tremendous role, and that is the use of role models. I was thinking in particular of the polio eradication campaign in India recently, which was a tremendous success. India has been declared polio-free. And I think one of the reasons for that was the use of India's biggest Bollywood star, Amitabh Bachchan, who will be on television and on radio every 10 minutes when there was a cut during the commercials, it was him standing there and urging mothers to take their child to the nearest polio draw inoculation center.
And I think that -- no one's done an evaluation, but I know that I was inundated by the -- I was living in India for the last three years and inundated by the sight of that man telling the mothers to take their babies.
But I think when you -- you conflate the screen personality with the real-life person and you think, oh, if he says it, he's always been -- he's acted like a god in movies, so it's god telling me. So I might as well do it.
But I think that there is (inaudible) for much greater use of the mass media for social change than we are doing. Facebook, Twitter and all are all very well, but for most people, it's really watching some racy program on evening television. Then you can do something there, it'll be (OFF-MIKE)
LEMMON: Absolutely. In fact, I've had Afghan girls tell me that nothing changed their lives more than Turkish soap operas.
David and then we'll come over here and go back.
QUESTION: Just to push a little bit more on the religion issue, religion's role both in -- if you can distinguish from tribal practices, religion's role in exacerbating a problem, but also I'm participating interested in models that you've seen of religion, religious organizations, the leaders actually playing a constructive role in addressing this.
BASU: The good thing is that most religious texts are sufficiently fuzzy to be -- to be interpreted in multiple ways. And I think smart leaders take advantage of that. So you can find religious leaders who are willing to -- because most texts, in fact, it's like proverbs. For every proverb that tells you to do X, tells you many hands make light work, also tells you too many cooks spoil the broth.
So I think in religion, also, you find a fair amount of the smart religious interpreter can almost -- can take on conservative religious authority not in an aggressive way, but in a way that's legitimate to say that, yes, it's -- in Islam, for example, there are several schools of jurisprudence. And it's possible even to have an abortion, if one takes one school's view about when life begins compared to another school's view on when life begins.
So similarly, the -- and so when we see examples now, there's also views on -- against family planning, but for the idea that you should only have children that you can afford to look after and bring up. So there are multiple interpretation possible, and we've seen this being used in countries that have had rapid declines in fertility for sure. We've seen it in Indonesia. We've seen it in Iran. We've seen it in Bangladesh, where we've had religious leaders use this.
In India, it's less material, because (inaudible) even more vague than these other religions, so we never needed the religious -- religious defense of modern behavior. We don't need that there.
But you do in other religions. But it's possible to do it, so I've seen it -- because it has a longer history, I've seen it in the context of family planning and -- and the numbers of children. But one can extend that definitely to talk about personal responsibility and later marriage.
LAURO: Just to add one thing. I'm obviously all for engaging male religious and traditional leaders. I would also like to flag the fact that sometimes there are very powerful female leaders to be engaged, especially, for instance, in West Africa. We know the women members of secret societies, elderly women are very influential. So, again, when we talk about leaders, tribal leaders in communities, let's also remember that there are also women to be engaged.
QUESTION: So I was curious, you were talking about legislative loopholes. And taking this on as a rights-based approach and looking at, how can you combine the law with those community practices, because a law can often help fast-forward those cultural changes? We've seen that in this country with smoking and seatbelts and drinking and driving, and it really can help fast-forward that change.
We recently at Equality Now just did a study looking at the laws and those legislative loopholes that exist. Sometimes they're on the books just to put a checkmark, but there's no implementation at any level, really. And I'm just curious what your experience has been in that area.
LAURO: I think reading -- I was reading Vogelstein's report on the U.S. foreign policy and the link to child marriage and how, again, child marriage is a strategic priority, not just a human rights...
LEMMON: That was the report that came out earlier this year with Rachel Vogelstein and Isobel Coleman wrote, with funding from the Ford Foundation.
LAURO: And, again, it was talking about how also the lack of implementation of relevant legislation around child marriage is symptomatic of a broader situation in terms of rule of law, and the absence of rule of law, in many countries, and how, again, this obviously is linked to strategic priorities for foreign donors.
Most recently, again, we are doing formative research in Brazil, sponsored by the Ford Foundation, and something that came up consistently there, talking about legislative loopholes, not only there isn't legislative framework that effectively protects girls in terms of age of marriage, but also on the field there is a perception of complete impunity of those who violate existing laws and also perception of complete absence.
We were in states where for miles there was nobody to be found belonging to the civil service, whether belonging to the police, whether belonging to various social services, and so on. So, again, I think it's a question of implementation, definitely. It's a question also of feeling the presence of the state on the ground.
And it very much varies around different countries, but, again, even countries which are perceived to have a quite evolved legislative framework, if then you look at the details there are several loopholes that need to be addressed. It's a very big answer, but...
LEMMON: One thing that was interesting in India was that a lot of the people would say that we're -- it's not that the money is going to make -- when we were doing the Abbad (ph) interview -- it's not the money that's going to make the difference. It's the fact that we know of weddings that have been shut down, and that's really embarrassing, because the (inaudible) marriage is 18, and the authorities have come in and actually have stopped weddings. And (inaudible) well, were you at that wedding? No, but we heard about a girl in the neighborhood where that happened, and that was deeply embarrassing.
Go to Lyric (ph) and then go (inaudible) and we have -- just a time note. We have 15 minutes and we'll end sharply at 1:45.
QUESTION: Thank you. I just wanted to follow up on that question about the CFR report and noticing that we are here at the Council on Foreign Relations, which does advise U.S. foreign policy. What is your recommendation to the folks who are in positions of power to make some change on this issue in the next year, five years? What would you like to see in terms of U.S. leadership on ending child marriage and addressing the needs of married girls that have been discussed? Thanks.
LAURO: You can -- well, I was -- full disclosure, I was actually at a meeting with Girls Not Brides last week, Girls Not Brides USA, so we were also discussing this kind of issue. And we were also -- we are talking about obviously the Violence Against Women reauthorization act that was passed last year and how it implies the development of (inaudible) sexual strategy around child marriage, and how that is going to be operationalized is still to be debated. It's open for discussion. And that's why there is the possibility for active campaigning and so on.
Again, I'm a neophyte of that meeting with Girls Not Brides, not I also have my personal views that I would like to share here. I think the big (inaudible) for instance, is to decide where -- whether we're going to push for a specific child marriage strategy versus addressing child marriage within the broader context of violence against women. Obviously, each strategy has pros and cons. And within the U.S., ideally, it would make sense to have a specific child marriage strategy, even though moralistically it seems to be the case that it will be addressed under the broader Violence Against Women umbrella.
What I would like to point out, again, always thinking about the fact that the way we frame issue has consequences from a policy perspective, but also from a general public awareness perspective, is that framing child marriage as a specific strategy, it's very, very effective from a programming and implementation perspective.
However, it reminds to me personally that child marriage is something done by other cultures. It's something special. When, again, from an advocacy perspective, child marriage is basically -- it's gender-based violence, and both women and men can be the victim of child marriage. So in that sense, I think, again, within -- within the U.S. context, I think it's -- there are reasons to push for a specific child marriage strategy. From a broader advocacy perspective, I see kind of battle with what's best.
BASU: Yes, I think as a global leader, the U.S. can play a role in propagating the idea of child marriage being bad, except I think that there are lines to be drawn. It certainly shouldn't be tied up with other kinds of the help or strategies or sanctions, et cetera.
In general, I'm not in favor of those things, because they just pushed back social practices underground and, in fact, make it even more difficult for the ones -- for the ones who are forced into child marriage, for instance, if there's -- if it's not even openly acknowledged to have occurred. So I'm not in favor of that.
But secondly, I think a lot of it is leading by example. And this is, of course, very difficult to do, because as -- the U.S. is a very strange country. I mean, you have these -- you have all this -- these pockets maybe of violence and forced marriage, et cetera, but right now, I mean, the focus -- if you read the New York Times or the Atlantic Monthly or the New Republic, all the focus is on how marriage is good for you.
So it's -- these unwed mothers are being told to get married and not -- even if they're 15 and 16 and 17, teenage mothers. It's being drummed into them that if there was a partner available for that child, how good it would be. College girls are being told that you go to college so that you can find a husband in college, women who've crossed 30 having frightened off about the biological clock.
So marriage is very much valorized in this culture. So to make the distinction between marriage and child marriage requires a kind of sophistication that addresses some of the same problems that people in poor countries have with daughters not getting married. And so you're saying, get her married, but don't get her married for the next two years.
And so you need your arguments, also, to be made much more -- in a much more sophisticated way, because -- otherwise you're going to have to look in your own backyard, too.
LEMMON: Well, on that note, I'm going to go to Jeannie (ph), who (inaudible) from other contexts, and I'm glad to...
QUESTION: Thank you. So just a few words of background. So I'm with the Tahirih Justice Center, and as Giovanna alluded, we did a survey that found in the U.S., within a two-year period, that over 500 service providers -- law enforcement, counselors, teachers, and others who responded to the survey -- had encountered up to 3,000 cases of forced marriage in the U.S.
And they came from 47 different states and 56 different countries of origin and that less than 16 percent of those service providers really knew what to do with those cases. And those that said they knew what to do often spoke of referrals that they could give, meaning that there was some circularity we feared that girls were encountering when they reached out for help.
And while the issue of forced marriage is distinguishable from child marriage, obviously, there's overlap. And at Tahirih, we've dealt with cases involving girls as young as 11.
So I think all of these points about what do we know from working in other countries, but what also do we need to do to translate that information to host country contexts. And as you pointed out, sometimes the problem is differentiated across the generations in ways we wouldn't necessarily think or intuitively expect.
And, you know, your point, Giovanna, about data being needed for targeted advocacy is so important. We're embarking shortly on some data collection with the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center on the problem in the U.S., because I think what we really need to understand is, how do we look at those multiple factors and translate them into effective levers and interventions that deter the practice, but not individuals and survivors from coming forward to access help. And we're in a very, very, you know, gloriously strange country, where we're overly legalistic with our responses most of the time.
And what is interesting is, with a lot of laws and a tremendous framework that women and girls could be accessing, our supposition and what we are seeking to look at further through the data collection is that they're not accessing those existing domestic violence or other child protection frameworks even here. And so as we look for solutions, we really need to be looking to what will best help them and enable those community conversations and calculuses to change and not look to one single lever, the immigration system being one of those that we certainly don't want to see an overfocus on. It's a disservice both to the issue and to the individuals who might actually be harmed by our going to that as the sort of magic wand response, rather than helped.
QUESTION: Oh, thank you. So given the barriers that culture and tradition and the patriarchy all represent, among other things, to progress on this issue, I was most intrigued by the idea of harm reduction strategies. You know, just sort of deftly sidestepping all of that and dealing with consequences right now that -- without having to argue the merits or demerits of our particular position.
So I'm wondering, Alaka, if you have an example of where that's being best pursued right now. Where do you think harm reduction is getting the most traction of anywhere?
BASU: Well, I guess the standard example that's given is needle exchange programs for HIV-AIDS.
QUESTION: Sure, but, I mean, in terms of...
BASU: Yeah, but you mean in terms of marriages. I don't know of any strategy -- in fact, I'm taking from the example of HIV-AIDS or -- or actually I have that view even on female circumcision. I think that calling it female genital mutilation in all cases sort of drives it underground in a way that is not in the best interests of these young girls themselves.
So having, for example -- for example, accepting the ritualistic value of the process, that it's a life cycle marker, and, therefore, maybe having the rituals associated with it, without the act itself, is one way which our extreme feminism does not approve of, because they would say that it -- that even the rituals are a marker of the oppression of women.
But I would say that, in the short run, I think the harm reduction part of it -- the physical harm reduction is as important as the psychological empowerment that we're going for in the long run. So I'm taking from these examples to say that something similar can be done in the case of child marriage, should be done in the case of child marriage, where we break up child marriage and what we don't like about child marriage into its constituents.
What is it about child marriage that upsets us? Is it the lack of education that it implies? Is it the early sexual activity that it implies? Is it the early child bearing that it implies? Is it the poor nutrition that it implies?
One could, of course, then say that -- by helping women, one is encouraging child marriage. I don't think that is the case. I think it usually works the other way around. So I'm talking about harm reduction as opposed to zero tolerance as a way of -- as a form of action that takes into account that these women -- these young girls are suffering the double consequences of early marriage. They're getting married early and having all these other things, as well.
LEMMON: And there are some microfinance programs and others that are having groups meet that are young brides, because part of the issue is also socialized (inaudible) for so many of them. And there -- that was one of the things I'd read about recently was trying to -- and it was one of the first things I had read was about trying to meet brides where they already are, right, try meeting the girls where they already are and deal with the fact that that exists. This is their reality, so now what, right? How do you help them and the next generation?
BASU: Just to add on this very briefly, I mean, it comes to my mind the example, I think, of the Population Council's work in Egypt to trying to reintegrate married girls within the schooling system, and also USAID 2012, I think, publication specifically on married girls, how to, again, address that. I think it's important that USAID has finally come up with addressing that, so just talk about quick thoughts.
LEMMON: We'll go over there and we'll just round it out (inaudible)
QUESTION: OK. I'm Erin Kennedy with CARE USA, and I'm also here on behalf of Girls Not Brides, along with a number of my other co-chairs, and just think it's great that we talked about that entity which has raised the consciousness in so many of our kind of minds.
And one thing that I was thinking about back to the beginning, Alaka, was when you talked about eradication versus, you know, what's realistic, so the idealism versus the realism, in particular around the cohabitation. That's something interesting that I think isn't really discussed, and I would just love to hear more about what you have heard about that strategy.
And then, I guess, also sort of this global picture about kind of, what is our mind? And what is the rhetoric around ending child marriage or actually are we dealing with severity and some of the causes and consequences? So I guess maybe a two-part question.
BASU: Well, I'm speaking again from the Indian experience, where there has been a tradition of child marriage -- parts of India that have early marriage also actually have practice of what is called Gowda (ph) -- that is the cohabitation -- occurs a few years after marriage. So marriage is a real kind of sealing the deed, that it's sealed this man is married to this woman, but this doesn't mean that sexual activity begins at that time.
So that tradition already exists. And, in fact, if you look at the gap between the age at marriage and the age at the first child in India, society -- those parts of India where the age at marriage is very early, in fact, the gap is pretty large. It's where the age at marriage is high that the gap is small, so that in the -- you're ending up with the age at first child being the same regardless of the age at marriage.
So that's something that can be exploited. I think that's a strategy that can be used to say now that you've -- she has got married, you can't undo that, but if you can -- you're going to wait for two years before you send her to her husband, so why not wait for four years and let her finish her secondary schooling and then send her to her husband's? There will be fears; there will be anxieties.
But I think that one step at a time is worth taking for wherever the deed has been done. And it also displays a positive -- an empathy which in the long run I think makes it easier to then say now let's take the next step, your second daughter, don't even get her married, is a (inaudible).
LAURO: Yeah, very briefly, I mean, this tension between idealism and realism, eradication is possible of the practice, per se. I mean, let's think about foot binding in China. It was eradicated. Social change, social norm change, it is possible. Obviously, the root cause is the unequal gender relations, it's something to keep on working on -- yes, that's it.
LEMMON: OK. Last question, and then we're going to wrap it.
QUESTION: Two quick comments related to questions. It was asked what do you do to get policymakers to focus better on these issues. Well, I'd just like to say that I go back far enough into the days when family planning was viewed as a very soft options and just a social issue and maybe not a very nice one. And I go back far enough to when HIV-AIDS was not an issue we even discussed. And both of them were ultimately identified as strategic interests for the United States. So I'm very encouraged to hear and see this conversation now because I think it's this process that brings it to the table of policymakers and makes them focus on it.
I was also encouraged by -- at first by the identification of a single approach which covered a variety of factors, and that was working on secondary education for girls. But on second thought -- and hearing further discussion -- I find that discouraging in a way, because what it implies is a tremendous effort to improve the quality of secondary school education. And worldwide, we've had great difficulties in doing that. So I'd just like to ask if you have some insights into what you think can be quick fixes on that score, as opposed to in the next century.
LEMMON: And you have one minute to do it, so a quick answer with a quick fix.
BASU: I can do it, because I have very strong views on this.
So, yeah, certainly this is, again, information studies that show us the relationship between years of schooling and positive outcomes later in life. And the amazing thing is that a little learning is not a dangerous thing. Each year of schooling seems to result in lower levels of infant mortality, lower fertility, all kinds of good outcomes in the future -- in spite of the fact -- this is a universal finding, which is surprising, given the huge difference in school quality in different parts of the world. This suggests that there's something more than school quality.
The fact of going to school seems to have an independent effect, in addition to whatever the good things that are taught in a well-run school with well-run -- good teachers and good evaluation, et cetera. But just the fact of going to school seems to do something to people's minds and to people's abilities to learn new things. That is independent of the quality of the school.
So secondary school to that extent, I think, the fact of going in is -- it's some -- I think educationalists call this the hidden curriculum. There is something that's beyond what is in their explicit school currently that (inaudible) aim for good schooling so that we get the scientists and the engineers. But even getting them out of the home to spend those four extra years in school I think is going to have several impacts that -- that's the short fix while you do better schooling.
LAURO: A quick programmatic example about something that Promundo has been working on in Brazil, working with the minister of education to scale up Program H, which is a gender transformative program targeting young men, as well as young women. And now it's been scaled up, and basically it's been included in the educational curricula, and teachers are encouraged to take the training -- and as part of the encouragement, they basically get credits in terms of their professional advancement in order to learn how to be more gender transformative in class and also transmit that kind of knowledge to the kids at school.
So, again, it's a small example, but just to give a sense of how this can be scaled up and can be sustainable, if taken on by governments themselves.
LEMMON: Thank you all. Yes, we would definitely (inaudible) thank you all very much for coming. I appreciate it. Thank you for the discussion. And we look forward to having you at the next one. Thank you.
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