Young Lives/ Antonio Fiorente

Girls’ diverging pathways to marriage

By Gina Crivello, Young Lives

Oxford University
Sep 9, 2016 · 20 min read
Some photos have been reformatted to comply with our commitment to participants not to publish their photos and protect their identity, as part of our ethical agreement

Diverging Pathways

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.

Photo: Young Lives participants, aged 13, mapping their community
Using a ‘poverty tree’ to discuss the causes and effects of poverty
Young Lives researchers returning from a follow-up interview in a semi-remote village, northern Ethiopia, 2014

Why marriage?

Young Lives didn’t start out as a study of child marriage. One of our chief concerns, however, is with how children and families negotiate differing key transitions across the whole of childhood. These are the defining moments that potentially deepen vulnerability or expand opportunities for individual children, and the points at which children’s trajectories diverge along the lines of gender and economic inequality.

A global and national priority

In recent years, ‘child, early and forced marriage’ has been identified as a global problem and a major focus for policy intervention, including in Ethiopia where the Government made it a priority in its 2013 National Strategy and Action Plan on Harmful Traditional Practices. Rates of child marriage and adolescent fertility have declined, but the pace of change remains slow.

USAID campaign banner promoting condom use, ‘Don’t let him fool you!!’

Marriage in Young Lives

In our survey study, 10 per cent of girls (41 out of 420) married before they were 18, whereas only 2 (out of 488) boys had married by that age. Few girls (7) had married before their 15th birthday. The girls who married before age 18 were more likely to come from poorer households, from rural areas and from particular regions in the country (Oromia, Amhara and Tigray).

A Young Lives research encounter

Ideal versus actual age of marriage

Many girls say that they want to delay marrying and having children, certainly later than when their parents married and started a family. They also value schooling and want to stay in school well into their teen years so they can earn a good living. For this generation of children and young people, it is becoming more socially acceptable to get married later and to delay childbirth, for economic and health reasons. When 19 year-olds in the study were asked ‘What do you think is the best age to become a parent?’ on average, young women said age 23 (for women) and 26 (for men).

Ayu’s lifemap, age 12 — as co-created with a researcher
A young couple. Young Lives/ Antonio Fiorente

Norms and decision-making

The emphasis on child marriage in policy making is as a social norm rather than a livelihood strategy. But child marriage is not just about culture, or just about poverty, nor always a forced decision imposed on girls by others.

Comparing girls’ trajectories to marriage

Within this scenario, I want to return to the example of the five girls pictured at the beginning of this piece, before concluding, and briefly explore the factors influencing their differing trajectories. The girls are Fanus, Haftey, Haymanot, Sessen and Sirnay, and together their experiences represent a microcosm of the challenges and opportunities currently facing girls in the country.

Fanus (unmarried)

Sessen (married)

Sirnay (unmarried)

Haymanot (remarried)

Haftey (unmarried)

Haymanot and Haftey — two contrasting cases

Haymanot and Haftey — two contrasting cases
Haymanot, Age 17
A stone crushing plant. Source: Young Lives

“My dream as a mother and as what others do, is to marry her to somebody”.

The man’s family were not asking for a dowry, so they felt they should accept the offer.

Haymanot draws an image depicting someone who is doing well in life as part of a group discussion on child well-being, when she was age 15
Young Lives/ Antonio Fiorente
Source: alchetron.com

Defining moments in girls’ trajectories

Neale and Flowerdew write about the way ‘time’ and ‘texture’ add value to qualitative longitudinal research, and suggest:

Implications for change

One of the priorities in Young Lives is to use the information we have on children’s trajectories to spot key intervention points and how they relate to each other, such as defining moments in children’s development (e.g. puberty), in school (e.g. passing an entrance exam), at home (e.g. parental ill health creating a demand for children’s unpaid care), in relationships (e.g. early divorce) and in the community (e.g. new factory attracting children’s labour), and to identify existing sources of support (e.g. social networks, sympathetic teachers, loans, etc.). Engaging directly with children and young people in research about their ‘changing lives in changing contexts’ means seeing from their perspectives what vulnerability, resilience, resistance and ‘choice’ means with respect to marrying young.

Young Lives/ Antonio Fiorentes

Notes:

Photos: This digital story uses a mix of Young Lives research photos (purposefully selected and reformatted to comply with our commitment to participants not to publish their photos and protect their identity, as part of our ethical agreement) and professionally commissioned photos taken of children and youth (who consent to the public use of their photos) in similar communities and circumstances to Young Lives children.

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Oxford is one of the oldest universities in the world. We aim to lead the world in research and education. Contact: digicomms@admin.ox.ac.uk

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Oxford is one of the oldest universities in the world. We aim to lead the world in research and education. Contact: digicomms@admin.ox.ac.uk

Oxford University

Oxford is one of the oldest universities in the world. We aim to lead the world in research and education. Contact: digicomms@admin.ox.ac.uk

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