CONTEXT: A considerable proportion of women worldwide are married during childhood. Although many studies have examined early marriage (before age 18), few have compared outcomes or correlates among girls married during different stages of adolescence or have focused on girls married very early (before age 15).
METHODS: Data from a population-based survey conducted in 2009-2010 in seven Ethiopian regions were used to examine early marriage among 1,671 women aged 20-24. Cross-tabulations and logistic regression were used to compare characteristics and contextual factors among girls married before age 15, at ages 15-17 or at ages 18-19 and to identify factors associated with selected marital outcomes.
RESULTS: Seventeen percent of respondents had married before age 15 and 30% had married at ages 15-17. Most of those who married before age 18 had never been to school. Compared with young women who had married at ages 18-19, those married before age 15 were less likely to have known about the marriage beforehand (odds ratio, 0.2) and more likely to have experienced forced first marital sex (3.8). Educational attainment was positively associated with foreknowledge and wantedness of marriage and with high levels of marital discussions about fertility and reproductive health issues.
CONCLUSIONS: Initiatives addressing the earliest child marriages should focus on girls who have left or never attended school. Given the vulnerability of girls married before age 15, programs should pay special attention to delaying very early marriages.
International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2013, 39(1):6-13, doi: 10.1363/3900613
Levels of child marriage, defined as marriage before age 18 (1), are generally declining worldwide, although a substantial proportion of females in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are still married before their 18th birthday. (2) Estimates suggest that if marriage patterns remain unchanged, during the next 10 years more than 100 million young women will be married during their adolescence (i.e., before age 18), and roughly 14 million will be married by age 15. (3)
Early marriage is associated with elevated total fertility rates. (4) A review of Demographic and Health Survey data from 51 countries found that 90% of first births to mothers younger than 18 took place within marriage, (5) and not to unwed mothers, as is often assumed. In many countries, childbearing is typically expected soon after marriage, and these early first births are riskier than later births. Complications of pregnancy and delivery are the leading causes of death among females aged 15-19, and girls who bear children before age 15 are five times as likely as older mothers to die of pregnancy-related causes. (6) Some evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa suggests that women who marry early have an increased risk of HIV infection; the infection rate among married adolescents is 50% higher than that among their unmarried, sexually active peers. (7), (8) The higher rate of infection among married than unmarried adolescents may be related to the former having a greater frequency of intercourse, having lower rates of condom use and having partners who are older and more experienced (and hence more...