Supporting Married, Cohabiting and Divorced Adolescents: Insights from Comparative Research
This is the 2nd policy brief from the Young Marriage and Parenthood Study (YMAPS), a qualitative research study carried out between 2017 and 2020 by Young Lives and Child Frontiers in Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana states), Peru, and Zambia. It highlights findings from the study and proposes policy recommendations to ensure that young people experiencing marriage, co-habitation and parenthood feel safe and cared for in their relationships; live a dignified life despite poverty; are able to return to, or finish their education and access training; and most importantly, to ensure that their own children go to school in order to give them a better future. Understanding, supporting and listening to this generation of adolescents who have married or cohabited and become parents in a critical step in breaking the cycle of young marraige for the next generation and achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Young Marriage, Parenthood and Divorce
This report presents emerging evidence from the Young Marriage and Parenthood Study (YMAPS), a comparative qualitative study of marriage, cohabitation, parenthood and divorce among marginalised adolescents and young people in Ethiopia, India (in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Peru and Zambia between 2017 and 2020.
There is a growing body of knowledge about why adolescents girls in the Global South get married. However, there is much less information about how to support them once they are married or in a union, and how being married or cohabiting or being young parents alters their life trajectories.
Report authors Gina Crivello and Gillian Mann, who lead YMAPS reveal the lives of adolescent girls and boys and young people who are or were married or cohabiting or are parents through the lens of 6 themes;
- What drives young marriage and cohabitation?
- Continuity and Change in marriage and informal unions;
- What do young people know about contraception and pregnancy, and what it is like to be a young parent?
- What drives the experience of unequal power dynamics between young couples?
- What causes violence and conflict in young married and cohabiting relationships?
- What leads to relationship breakdown, separation and divorce, and what are the consequences for young people?
The findings of the study suggest that a committment to the 'leave no one behind' agenda requires expanding the efforts to address child marriage to more explicity include the experiences of young people who are married or in informal unions, as well as those who are divorced and separated. A focus on adolescent sexuality, the experiences of boys and young men, and a more accurate understanding of girl's and boy's agency and decision making in their marriage and reproductive pathways are also needed.
Young Marriage Parenthood and Divorce in Ethiopia
New research sheds light on what life is like for Ethiopians who married, cohabited and became parents as adolescents, and identifies a raft of support measures.
Young Ethiopians have a greater say over marriage decisions than their parents, yet pressure from poverty and social expectations continue to drive important life decisions. Youth relationships remain governed by entrenched gender norms which constrain young women's agency and limit the life choices of both women and men.
Ethiopia has made significant efforts to reduce child marriage by tackling the causes of child marriage. Despite this, the country has amongst the highest rates of child marriage in East Africa. At the same time, little is know about the daily lives of millions of adolescents who are married, co-habiting and parents or what support they need to fulfil their aspirations in life.
A new research report, 'Young Marriage, Parenthood and Divorce in Ethiopia', published today as part of Young Lives and Child Frontiers Young Marriage and Parenthood Study (YMAPS), reveals what life is like for Ethiopians who married, cohabited, were parents or divorced as adolescents, and identifies a raft of support measures to help them and their families.
The findings are set within the wider context of the Young Lives study of 3,000 young people over the past 20 years, which found that more than 1 in 3 women in the Ethiopian sample are married by the age of 22 and 1 in 10 have given birth by before they are 18.
YMAPs’ researchers interviewed 83 young Ethiopians and held 15 focus group discussions in three Young Lives’ study locations, two rural and one urban; in Addis Ababa, Oromia, and Tigray. They discovered that while young people often talk about having a greater say in who they marry or live with, the majority had not planned or wanted to marry or become parents as adolescents.
Yisak Tafare, one of the report authors, says: ‘More adolescents are choosing to marry or live together, but many young people told us that they regret their decisions over time often because they were not able to continue with their education and realise too late they had not been ready to face the challenges of married life. We found this to be especially true when they felt pressured to marry – by their parents, by social expectations, or because of an unplanned pregnancy.’
- With changes brought about by education and urbanisation, adolescents and young people have a greater say compared to their parents in decisions about who, how and when they marry regardless of parental consent.
- Cohabitation is more common in urban areas, often because of unintended pregnancy, or the desire to maintain a sexual relationship while temporarily bypassing the costs of formal marriage.
- Increased agency often comes at a cost, as young peoples' unions become fragile if they lack formality or family backing.
- Elders continue to negotiate marriages and customary payments in rural areas despite greater opportunities for youth to select their partners,
- Young people still value the social status associated with being married and becoming parents.
- But in some communities, rising costs of marriage payments prevent young people pursuing formal marriage, pushing them into socially and materially precarious partnerships and potential indebtedness.
- Unintended pregnancies are hard to avoid as unmarried adolescent girls and young women cannot easily access contraception.
- Early pregnancies are a common source of regret for both young women and young men because they are pushed into early marriage and limit thier future life choices.
The young people interviewed told researchers that marriage, motherhood and fatherhood are vital sources of joy, pleasure and happiness, but their new roles and living arrangements are difficult to manage.
- Many young couples felt they had been socially, psychologically and materially unprepared for the significant responsibilities and challenges of married life.
- Within marriage, domestic work falls largely to young wives and husbands tend to take all major decisions. Young woman's agency, even over fertility, is often constrained by patriarchal values.
- Girls' and young women's subordinate status makes them vulnerable to violence within their intimate relationships.
- Young people’s relationships are fragile in the face of limited social and material resources and lack of preparation. The main reasons for separation and divorce are: early age at marriage; the husband or partner’s inability to finance the household; spousal conflict; suspected affairs; and husbands’ drinking and spending habits.
- Single women, whether unmarried, separated or divorced, face particular vulnerabilities, social stigma and challenges in accessing mother and child services and support with childcare.
The authors promote a series of multi-sectoral and coordinatedapproaches to ensure the well-being of young men and women as they form couples, establishhouseholds and bring up children. These include
- Tailoring services and programmes to ensure adolescents who are married or parents are provided with opportunities, safety nets and training, notably in financial literacy.
- Using conventional and social media to counter the stigma towards young women who are in relationships but have not married, or who are divorced.
- Promoting greater decision-making by adolescent girls over fertility through school clubs and programmes to reach out- of-school adolescents, using conventional and social media and role models.
- Encouraging financial support from parents can help newlywed or cohabiting couples to establish themselves, aided by opportunities for work and affordable housing support for male and female youth.
- Promoting awareness of women’s rights and the prevention of gender-based violence through schools, youth groups and media in order to counter the dominant role of patriarchal gender norms and unequal power relations within marriages
- Improving young peoples’ access to contraception and advocating for safe abortion, notably by enhancing the role of school clubs and health extension services.
- Policies and social norms promoting a fairer division of household labour and childcare responsibilities between women and men, and more equal decision-making over property and family planning.
Nardos Chuta, one of the report’s authors, says: ‘Policies and programmes must pay more attention to the views and needs of the millions of young people, particularly young women, who have experienced marriage, cohabitation, separation or divorce. We hope that this report will contribute to a greater understanding of what it means to be married early, so that they can receive the support they need, so that young women in particular have more choice in their lives, and the UN Sustainable Development Goal target on child marriage can be met'
For further research on this subject go to www.younglives.org.uk
Tracing the links between girls’ unpaid care work and women’s economic empowerment
That women’s economic empowerment and gender equality go hand in hand is being highlighted as part of this year’s International Women’s Day. The theme ‘Women in the Changing World of Work’ draws attention to the disproportionate amount of time spent on unpaid care work as a chief deterrent to women’s economic empowerment.
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka points out that:
Across the world, too many women and girls spend too many hours on household responsibilities – typically more than double the time spent by men and boys. They look after younger siblings, older family members, deal with illness in the family and manage the house.
One of the proposed solutions is to ‘Share unpaid care!’ with men, and to invest in technology, infrastructure and services to reduce the care burden on women.
Similarly, in ‘Sharing the Load’ briefing, the Gender and Development Network argue that unpaid care work is connected to virtually every aspect of women’s economic empowerment – impacting women’s time for paid work, education and leisure, and their economic decision-making power.
Girls are increasingly being brought into this important debate, as in Unicef’s report on Harnessing the Power of Data for Girls highlighting gender inequalities in children’s household chores - worldwide, girls aged 5-9 and 10-14 spend, respectively, 30 per cent and 50 per cent more of their time helping around the house than boys of the same age.
What does 'bargaining power' mean to young married rural women in Ethiopia?
I notice that in the lead-up to this year’s International Women’s Day, a popular hashtag on social media is #SheDecides. This is clearly linked to campaigning for women’s decisions around family planning but of course goes beyond that be a rallying call for funding and enabling those choices. It reminded me that though clearly decision-making at a global level has a huge impact on women’s lives and opportunities, so too does decision-making at the most local level: one’s own home. I’ve recently written about this most personal level of #SheDecides - ‘bargaining power’.
In 2014, Ethiopia ranked 129 out 188 countries in the Gender Inequality Index. This is despite the government’s commitment to improve the social standing of girls and women, and the considerable number of programmes targeting different aspects of gender inequality, from early marriage to women’s job creation, as well as attempts to change local cultural belief systems.
One concept that has been used to understand gender inequality, primarily from the field of economics, is that of ‘bargaining power’. Bargaining power is explained as negotiations between members of a household to arrive at decisions regarding the household unit. The basic premise is that men and women have different roles and priorities when it comes to household decision-making, and that decisions are made through a bargaining process in which household members each attempt to use the resources they have to achieve their desired ends.
‘Bargaining power’ matters.
Bargaining power could be argued to be a domestic issue – what happens behind the family door, between a wife and husband. But policymakers care about the bargaining power of women because of its direct correlation with different life outcomes. It is not enough to provide women with access to opportunities, services, or information, if they are powerless to act due to social and economic constraints. Increased bargaining power has been correlated with better outcomes in terms of health and education, and of the clothing of children and other members of the household. It has also been shown that women who wield greater influence in household decisions can greatly improve their children’s nutritional status.
My new working paper examines the ‘bargaining power’ of young married Ethiopian women within their marriage and their household. The paper is based on interviews with a group of young women, now in their early 20s who participated in the Young Lives longitudinal qualitative research over a seven-year period (from 2007 to 2014) spanning pre- and post-marriage, and for some of them, pre- and post-childbirth. By age 19, one in six young women in the Young Lives sample were married. I examined the changes in their bargaining power by comparing their experiences before and after marriage.
Young Women’s Household Bargaining Power in Marriage and Parenthood in Ethiopia
This working paper examines the factors that affect the bargaining power of young married women in marriage and parenthood in Ethiopia, where power structures remain overwhelmingly male-dominated and patriarchal. It draws on longitudinal qualitative data and survey information collected by Young Lives with children, young people and their families between 2007 and 2015. The paper’s main focus is young women’s changing relations and analysis of their ‘bargaining power’ before and after marriage. The concept of bargaining power has been used to understand gender inequality, primarily from the field of economics, but this mainly qualitative paper takes bargaining power to mean the negotiating capacity of young married women within their marital relationships and households.
The paper argues that intra-household, social-institutional and individual factors intertwine to shape young women’s agency towards bargaining power in differing areas of their lives. Generally, factors such as urban or rural residence, education, standard of living, customs and norms combine to shape the bargaining power of young women in marriage. Decisions are usually made at a collective level, whereas agency at the individual level is often very shallow.
The paper recommends that policies and programmes targeted towards reducing gender inequality at intra-household level have to consider the wider contexts in which those households are situated, such as how cultural beliefs and norms shape marital practices, gender and generational relations, and decision-making more broadly.
Girls’ diverging pathways to marriage
Five girls (pictured above), are all born in the same year, growing up in the same small village in northern Ethiopia. By the end of their second decade of life, two are married and mothers, two have failed the national Grade 10 exam so are looking for work and one has left her job working as a maid in the Middle East and returned to Ethiopia.
How do we explain the diverging trajectories of young people who, like these girls, experienced most of their childhood during the period of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and for whom poverty was a constant, though dynamic, feature of everyday life growing up? How similar or different are their experiences when compared to their parents’ and grandparents’?
Continue reading this story on The University of Oxford's Medium page where it first appeared on 9 September 2016 and watch our research film Adolescent trajectories and early marriage in Ethiopia.
Between Hope and a Hard Place: Boys and Young Men Negotiating Gender, Poverty and Social Worth in Ethiopia
In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on adolescence as a key transition to adulthood. Young people are navigating puberty and making life choices around schooling, work, and intimate and family relationships. However, much of the attention has been on girls. This has led to a lack of gendered analysis and has also meant that adolescent boys have been largely left out of the picture.
This paper uses Young Lives research in Ethiopia, carried out over multiple years, to look at boys and young men’s lives, their aspirations, and the obstacles they face as they grow into adults. It examines the diverse strategies they employ to overcome these challenges, and compares their experiences with those of girls and young women of the same age.
- Education is seen by both parents and children as a route out of poverty. 95 per cent of Young Lives boys and girls were enrolled in school at the age of 12. By age 19, there was a growing ambivalence regarding education, particularly for young men who increasingly oriented their aspirations towards the world of work.
- Rural/urban contrasts Young people growing up in rural areas are often seen as having fewer life chances than those in towns. But the least optimistic young men were located in urban areas where they felt disconnected from development opportunities.
- Livelihoods Many of the young men had left school and were trying to find work, both as a response to poverty and a vital source of respect in the community. But because they found so few opportunities for gainful employment, some of them were left feeling stuck and hopeless.
- Marriage Girls see marriage as one way of improving their lives. But for young men, marriage was impossible until they had adequately paid work, and was therefore a way of entering into adulthood that they could not imagine in the near future.
The paper concludes by drawing out the policy implications of our findings. It calls for stronger gendered evidence on the relationship between gender inequality and childhood poverty, and an approach to gender justice that include boys and young men, as well as girls and young women, so that none are left trapped between hope and a hard place.
What needs to be done to keep child marriages trending down
This blog originally appeared in The Conversation on 23 June 2015
The broader African and international lobby against child marriage and other harmful traditional practices has grown tremendously in recent years. Its political clout is being felt right down to the grassroots level with positive outcomes.
Last week also saw the annual Day of the African Child (June 16). Joined-up thinking and campaigning led to this year’s theme of accelerating collective efforts to end Child Marriage in Africa.
To galvanise all this support and translate commitments to action, the Ethiopian government has planned a National Girl’s Summit on June 25. This follows a similar summit in London last year, where the country committed to ending female genital mutilation and child, early and forced marriage by 2025.
Early marriages declining in Ethiopia
The good news is that early marriage is on the decline in Ethiopia. There are multiple reasons for this, though policy change and implementation of programmes have no doubt played a large part.
Over the past decade, there have been a number of government advocacy campaigns and projects supported by donors and NGOs. The Revised Family Proclamation of 2000 Article 7 prohibited marriage under the age of 18. By 2008, six of the nine federal states had enacted their respective laws which had begun to take effect in the regions from 2003. Two regions have still to amend their laws. Enforcement has tended to involve fines and, occasionally, imprisonment.
But the decline is also due to the rapidly changing social and economic environment in Ethiopia. With greater access to education, radio, satellite TV and mobile phones – as well as employment and migration of youth – there are opportunities for them to learn about the world and question prevailing cultural assumptions.
There has also been an intergenerational shift in attitudes and expectations. In one of our research interviews, a mother from Leki in Oromia describes the tension this has caused between generations:
Our parents used to give us to somebody we do not know and collect their bride wealth … they cover our head with a shawl and put us on horseback to ride us to groom’s house … it was like sending us into a prison … Now, if I marry off my daughter [against] her interest, she will refuse and oblige me to pay back any bride wealth I take.
Reflecting on what influenced them in deciding about the marriage of their children and grandchildren, parents and grandparents commonly refer to their own past difficulties arising from early marriage.
Early marriage may be viewed as a rational option by parents under certain circumstances, including when girls’ education is limited. Reuters/Radu Sigheti
Rationales for child marriage
The reality is that, culture and tradition aside, poverty is the basic underlying rationale for early marriage. In certain contexts, early marriage may be viewed as a rational option by parents and sometimes girls.
Factors include girls having few other opportunities. Their education is limited and chances of training or employment restricted.
Marriage payments can provide support for parents. Bride wealth payments, which are customary in southern Ethiopia, can be an important source of income for girls’ families. It enables them to meet various needs and marry off their sons.
Promising their children in marriage while still young was a strategy in Amhara to form family alliances and ensure that the young couple were endowed with property to start a new household.
By marrying their daughters early, parents feel they are reducing the risk of them engaging in pre-marital sex. This redues the risk of exposing them to sexually transmitted diseases – notably HIV/AIDS – and the risk of pregnancy, unsafe abortion, or disgrace and social stigmatisation if they have a child while unmarried.
Young women who have a child out of wedlock often won’t get support from the father and may be repudiated by their parents. Finding work for young women is hard enough when they are on their own. Creche and preschool facilities are often nonexistent or unaffordable, and employers will often not accept a young woman with a child.
In a context of low life expectancy, parents are keen to ensure their daughters find respectable husbands while they are alive, and by marrying early have enough children that survive. In the absence of alternative social security, parents hope to have grandchildren to look after them in old age.
Despite the winds of change, not all parents – or indeed girls or the boys who wish to marry them – are convinced that these practices are wrong.
Changing hearts and minds
In terms of implementing the law, the birth registration system being put in place is important. But in the short term, the exact age of girls is difficult to certify and some parents or girls have claimed they are older so they can marry without risking prosecution.
The law can also have unintended adverse consequences. Some girls may also defy the law, arguing that it is their right to choose to marry early – making it difficult to prosecute them.
If legal sanctions are imposed without a genuine change of heart and people being convinced of the harm, the practices can go underground.
Much of the current campaigns’ focus is rightly on girls, particularly through schools and the media. Empowerment of the girls is clearly key to bringing about change.
Targeting men and religious leaders
These practices are closely linked to the rest of girls’ lives and opportunities. Breaking the cycle of poverty by providing girls with more chances for education, training and employment may well be more important than simply seeking to convince them to avoid harmful practices.
Ethiopian church leaders have a role to play in condemning early child marriages. Reuters/Tiksa Negeri
It is also important to involve men and boys, as fathers, future husbands and leaders. Changing views about girls’ life-chances, education and employment can lead to greater transformations in ideas about desirable marriage partners and the benefits of delaying marriage to increase opportunities.
There is also evidence that convincing customary and religious leaders to denounce the practices and avoid them for their own daughters has an important role in changing trends.
The forthcoming summit is without doubt a step in the right direction. Combined efforts from all stakeholders including government structures and services, international and civil society organisations is crucial. But in the final analysis, the need for change has to be believed in and implemented within communities by the girls, young women and men, and their parents.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. The images of children in this blog were chosen by The Conversation editors and are not of children involved in Young Lives research. Read the original article.
Click here for our slidehare presentation given at the Ethiopia Girl Summit
Youth and Development: Preliminary Findings from Round 4 in Ethiopia
This fact sheet presents findings from the fourth round of data collection carried out by Young Lives in Ethiopia in late 2013. It reports on outcomes for the Older Cohort at age 19 in terms of education, employment and marriage, showing clearly how young people's opportunities in life are influenced by their gender, their family's wealth level and background circumstances. Almost 60% of the young people were still in education at age 19 (27% combining this with work), 28% had left school and were working, and 7% were not studying, working or married. Young people from poorer groups and rural areas were more likely to have left full-time education, many without a secondary-level qualification. By the age of 19, 13% of the girls in our sample were married and 10% already had a child of their own. Early marriage and child-bearing is most common for girls in rural areas and from poor households. Our findings show that, despite high aspirations earlier in adolescence, by age 19 the reality for many young people is very different.