Early reflections on findings from the Young Marriage and Parenthood Study (YMAPS)
The Young Marriage and Parenthood (YMAPS) research team, jointly run by Young Lives and Child Frontiers, met recently in Lima, Peru, to share new findings about adolescents’ experiences of marriage, co-habitation, divorce or parenthood.
This blog sets out some early reflections from the Young Lives communications team on the evidence we heard, paving the way for more detailed blogs on specific findings and research outputs to be published from across our country teams over the coming months.
Background to the study
YMAPS is investigating aspects of young marriage and parenthood that have received limited attention from international development policy and research to date. For example, whilst the reasons behind early marriage are well researched, less is known about what life is actually like for adolescents, particularly boys, once they are married, cohabiting, divorced and/or parents. Less is also known about the intergenerational aspects of adolescent marriage and parenthood.
The young people interviewed in this study live across a range of urban, peri-urban and rural locations and are drawn from the Young Lives/Niños del Milenio study samples in Ethiopia, India and Peru and a sample of adolescents from the Child Frontiers study in Zambia.
Young people are not only experiencing the formal union of early marriage, but many also cohabit informally, something that we had not anticipated. Moreover, marriage and co-habitation is established in lots of different ways across – and within – the study countries. In India, for example, adolescents’ unions still come about mostly through arranged marriages. But in the other study countries, it is a more complex picture. Unions are established through various routes which include friendship; sexual relations; pregnancy; elopements; a girl sleeping at a man’s house; marriage payments between families (bride-wealth, dowry or gifts) and more. Some relationships remain informal, others move on, sometimes with elders’ interventions, to more formal marriages.
Despite these different contexts, we were struck by the many similarities in their experiences and challenges they faced.
Lost dreams and regrets; but parenthood joy
Most of the adolescents in this study had at one time attended school and had had dreams of a better future. But the complex pressures of poverty, unequal gender roles, domestic violence, social expectations and family demands, often led to relationships and roles in which they felt unable to realise those dreams. Many adolescents expressed regret about their situation because they were struggling to become the person they thought they would be. Some said they were unhappy and declared that parenthood alone brought them joy.
Few options for girls living in rural, impoverished circumstances
For some, an early marriage or co-habitation was a romantic choice. But for many young girls early marriage is seen as the only way to get out of poverty: “He helped me; he bought me clothes, shoes, dishes, pans (…) he told me: you are not going to have any problems, I am going to support you and I will look after you” (adolescent girl, Peru).
Perpetuating young marriage and parenthood – the role of families
We didn’t hear anyone say that they wanted girls and boys to marry young. But at the same time, families sometimes took action to bring about early marriage because of financial and social pressures.
Few adolescents have access to information about birth control in school and consequently there are many pregnancies. Abortion is not a popular choice because though legal in Ethiopia, India and Zambia it is difficult to access and often considered unsafe. Therefore, to avoid the stigma of an unmarried, pregnant daughter, families often pressure young people to marry. Boys are expected to leave school and assume financial responsibilities: “I had to stop my education at grade nine and marry her. I was forced to live with her actually. I approached her just to have fun, but unfortunately it ended in marriage” (A young divorced man in Ethiopia describes his marriage when his girlfriend became pregnant).
Traditional gender roles in marriage and co-habitation
For many, life in an early marriage holds few opportunities other than to fulfil traditional gender roles, often to the disadvantage of adolescent girls who have little say over significant household decisions: “She is in charge of her pots, her things and I am in charge of my cars” (adolescent boy, Peru). In some locations they couldn’t even determine their own fertility: “If a man wants children, the women must give birth as many times as her husband wants; otherwise they are divorced” (group of adolescent girls in Ethiopia). Families can again be complicit in perpetuating inequalities: “I advise my niece, if you have a husband you have to serve him” (an adult woman in a focus group discussion in Peru).
Escape from violence – only to encounter more
Many adolescent girls had experienced domestic violence before entering into early marriage or cohabitation. They described how they hoped they would escape violent (childhood) homes by getting married. Yet many went on to suffer violence in their new homes: “I used to be beaten. He was just fine when we were dating but when we got married, we would be fine one day and be fighting the next” (a divorced girl from Zambia).
What about the boys?
Finding adolescent boys willing to participate in the study was challenging and they were often more reluctant than girls to share their experiences. From those interviewed, we heard some describe their relationship or parenthood in positive terms but many others felt trapped or overwhelmed by new responsibilities.
Overall, we felt girls and boys were often entering early relationships, marriages and parenthood completely unprepared. Consequently, they really struggle to negotiate new roles, often with significant negative consequences for both: “It is not good. Marriage needs age. When you marry while you are young you don’t know what to do” (divorced boy, Ethiopia).
An important outcome from this research will be to better understand how young people can be supported in their married (including cohabitation) and parental roles and responsibilities. The team will draw on the voices of young people themselves to develop new policy recommendations over the coming months, which will be published in specific country reports, alongside a comparative report to synthesis country findings. The communications team will work to ensure these messages are widely disseminated for greatest impact on related policies and programmes, and welcome blog readers’ thoughts and comments. To hear more about the initial findings watch this video here, for more on Young Lives gender and adolescent findings visit the website here and for updates from Young Lives please follow us on Twitter @yloxford @yMAPStudy
Marital and Fertility Decision-Making Report: The Lived Experiences of Adolescents and Young Married Couples in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, India
This report presents findings from a qualitative study exploring married adolescent girls and young couples’ experiences of fertility decision-making in the context of early marital life, in two southern Indian states (Andhra Pradesh and Telanaga). The research was carried out as part of Young Lives, a longitudinal study of childhood poverty that traced the life trajectories of 3,000 children and their households located in these states, over a 15-year period. By age 18, around 30 per cent of girls in the Young Lives study had married, and 23 per cent of these married girls had also become mothers.
Young Lives India Launch of Marital and Fertility Decision-Making Report: The Lived Experiences of Adolescents and Young Married Couples in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, India
Young Lives India conducted a qualitative sub-study in 2016 to supplement the longitudinal survey data related to early marriage and teenage pregnancy with the aim to generate rich qualitative information about early experiences of marital life. The study objectives were to:
- Deepen understanding of the influencers of fertility decisions among young married couples
- Ascertain the services and support available to married young women and couples
- Produce research findings for use by policymakers.
Based on the findings we have published a report entitled ‘Marital and Fertility Decision-making: The Lived Experiences of Adolescents and Young Married Couples in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, India.’
To register for the event, click on the following link https://bit.ly/2m7U7m0
IMPACT CASE STUDY Influencing policy on child marriage in India and Ethiopia
- Most countries worldwide have either banned child marriage or are working towards a ban, but the practice persists. Millions of children, mainly girls, are affected, especially those from poor backgrounds. Child marriage has serious economic, educational and health consequences.
- Young Lives research reveals the extent of child marriage in the four study countries, and also the severity of its impact on the life chances of girls in particular.
- In India, Young Lives evidence has contributed directly to a change in the law which makes sex with a wife who is a child an offence of rape.
- In Ethiopia, Young Lives has highlighted the complexity of factors affecting child marriage, and shared findings with the Ethiopian Government and other influential stakeholders including UNICEF and the Population Council.
A Statistical Analysis of Child Marriage in India based on 2011 Census
Early and child marriage has been a prevalent practice at different points in the history of almost all societies around the globe. In India, the practice has origins going back to ancient times and it continues to persist today.
Child marriage is most common in the world’s poorest countries. The highest prevalence rates of women in the age group 20-49 years reporting entering marriage before 18 years are in South Asia (56%), followed by West and Central Africa (46%), Eastern and Southern Africa (38%), Latin America and the Caribbean (30%).
According to a UNICEF report (2014), one in three of all child marriages globally take place in India and rates are highest among the poorest and most socially disadvantaged. Child marriage has been declining slowly over the years, but numbers of girls and boys getting married before their respective legal ages remain large. In the 2011 Census 33.8 million child marriages were reported for girls aged less than 18 and boys below 21 years. High variance has been noted across regions, states and between urban and rural areas in the prevalence child marriage within India.
This Executive Summary explores the findings reported in the 2011 Census.