Child marriage is a complicated phenomenon — spanning hundreds of countries and taking into account factors including education, religion, income level, and more.
But could ending the practice involve something as simple as a chicken? Or a goat?
That’s one idea included in Ethiopia’s Berhane Hewan initiative, which asked local communities to devise solutions to the problem of child marriage, NPR reports.
One of these solutions was to reward families that send their daughters to school for two years with a goat, sheep, or a pair of chickens.
In rural households around the developing world, livestock can serve as the primary signifier of family wealth, which can lead to girls being sold or traded for something as simple a goat. But this initiative incentivizes families to see the long-term value in investing in a girl's education.
The program began in 2004, and has since been shown to have a positive effect on girls’ educational and other outcomes, while reducing the number of child marriages — and now the program has spread to other African countries, including Burkina Faso and Tanzania.
According to a 2009 study, girls who participated in the program between 2004 and 2006 were 90% less likely to be married during that time than girls who didn’t.
The key to the program’s success, researchers found? Involving the community in the program design.
"The idea of the goats and the chickens came from the communities, at one of those meetings,” Annabel Erulkar, who works at a nonprofit called Population Council and helped design the Berhane Hewan initiative, told NPR’s Goats and Soda blog. “My experience is that communities are quite open to change.”
Along with its farm animal stipulation, the program also involved regular community meetings where members could discuss child marriage, and a program that paired young girls with older female mentors.
This sort of behavioral change will be necessary if the global community is to end the practice of child marriage by 2030, in accordance with the Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
Around the world, one in three girls are married before the age of 18 in developing countries, according to the International Center for Research on Women. Similarly, girls living in poverty are twice as likely to be married before the age of 18 than their wealthier counterparts.
In Ethiopia, one in five girls are married before the age of 15, according to the Population Council, which authored the report on Berhane Hewan.
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, and is calling on world leaders to eliminate or change laws that allow child marriage. You can take action here.
Read More: New York Has Finally Outlawed Child Marriage
Incentivizing families to keep girls in school by offering them financial benefits is one way to tackle the pernicious problem of child marriage, but it hasn’t always worked, according to the NPR report.
In Haryana, India, a program called "Our Daughters, Our Wealth” gave money to families that kept girls in school. The program backfired because without intentional conversations about the value of girls’ education, parents viewed the financial gains as an additional contribution to a dowry payment once the girl turned 18, according to Anita Raj, the director of the Center on Gender Equity and Health at the University of California, San Diego, who also spoke with NPR.
In Ethiopia, however, the Berhane Hewan initiative may be finally bringing an answer to a classic quandary: what came first — the chicken or the egg?
Its answer: a girl.