Secondary education is fundamental to achieving gender equity

India has made tremendous progress in reaching the goal of universalisation of primary education since the passing of the Right to Education Act in 2010.  Education was made a fundamental right for all children aged 6 to 14.  However there are still huge gaps when we look at secondary education.

While the Gross Enrolment Ratio in secondary education rose by 25 % to over 76 %  between 2000 and 2014, the Net Enrolment Ratio remained a low 45.6 %. This means that more than half of all adolescents aged 15-16 are not enrolled in secondary education.

This has immense bearing on long term outcomes for children, since secondary education is considered a necessary stepping stone towards a better and brighter future. For girls in particular, not continuing in education often results in them being pushed into child and early marriage, since girls continue to be considered ‘paraya dhan’ (belonging to somebody else) and son-preference prevails across socio-economic strata across the country. There has been a lot of concern over the fact that despite the Indian economy growing at a healthy average of about 7% between 2004 to 2011, there is a decline in female participation in the country’s labour force from over 35% to 25%, according to the ILO.

It is no surprise given these facts, that India ranks 130th out of 155 countries in the 2015 Global Gender Inequality Index.

Young Lives longitudinal data from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana found that boys were 1.8 times more likely to complete secondary education than girls, even after controlling for variables related to individual characteristics. Girls left education due to various reasons including familial, societal and school related issues and by 19 approximately 37% of the girls were already married.

This compares to less than 2% of the boys.

Furthermore, the girls at the highest risk of getting married early were from the poorest tercile and those living in rural locations. My colleagues Patricia Espinoza and Abhijeet Singh conducted a regression analysis and found that school enrolment at the age of 15 had the most statistically significant impact on reducing the probability of child marriage of girls by over 32%.  Lower parental and child aspirations for education at the age of 12 and 15, were also linked to early marriage.