Paying someone to delay marriage? How about paying to delay childbirth? Yesterday Jim Yardley of the New York Times explored just that practice in India. Early marriage is not an issue here in the United States where the average age of marriage is 28 for men and 26 for women. But in developing countries such as India, early marriage and childbirth lead to high fertility, putting strains not just on women and their families, but also on emerging economies. Yardley explores how many rural women in India wed as teenagers, and then have babies in quick succession; a pattern that, according to experts cited by Yardley, “exacerbates poverty and spurs what demographers call ‘population momentum’ by bunching children together.”
The Indian government is using what it terms a ‘honeymoon package,’ payment of 5,000 rupees, or about $106, if couples wait to have children. But is this really the way to affect change? Sure, a couple may respond positively to the idea of payment, but what about the familial and cultural pressures that lead to early marriage and childbirth in the first place?
Paying people to change their behavior is a top down strategy that does not create communal buy-in for larger cultural transformations. So what does work to create lasting change? Investing in a community-based approach where everyone from grandparents to parents to young children truly believe that their futures can be different if they actively make their own decisions to wait for marriage and childbirth—and encourage their friends, family, and community to do the same.
At Pathfinder, we’ve seen great success with this community-based approach combined with access to comprehensive reproductive health care services through our PRACHAR* project in Bihar, India. Within just a few years of PRACHAR beginning, young women delayed their marriage by 1.5 years and childbearing by 2 years. This has created huge changes in one of poorest and most populous states in India. In addition, the number of women using contraception to space their second child increased from 6% to 25%. Pathfinder is now working with the Bihar government to scale-up this successful program throughout the state.
PRACHAR’s success has implications for India and beyond. Worldwide more than 3 billion people—about half the world’s population—are under the age of 25. We cannot pay them all to wait to get married, or have their first child. But we can make the commitment as a global community to invest in their futures by giving them the tools and services they need to make healthy reproductive decisions.
There are myriad ways you can help support that change. You can take action by sharing a video on www.Girl2Woman.org and $1 will go toward reproductive health services for women and girls. You can sign a petition for world leaders to invest in sexual and reproductive rights and health. Or you can read about the unique 3 Billion Reasons Campaign to raise awareness among governments and the international health community about this urgent issue.
Either way, we’ll be creating real change and opportunities for the world’s young people, especially young women, that will have momentum for generations to come—and that’s really what’s needed, not cash incentives.
Photo: Karl Grobl, Pathfinder International.