Transitions to Adulthood in Ethiopia. Preliminary Findings: Summary and Policy Issues
This is the summary of preliminary findings from the 5th wave of qualitative research across 10 communities in 5 regions of Ethiopia. The research documented the current circumstances and recent life changes of the two cohorts of children in Young Lives; the Young Cohort (now aged 19) making the transition into adulthood and the Older Cohort (aged 25) already experiencing early adult life. The report offers early analysis of young people's interrelated transitions to adulthood with respect to schooling, work and employment, marriage and having children and includes preliminary policy implications for each theme. The findings and analysis in this short report will be explored in greater depth in 8 papers, forthcoming in 2020.
Transitions to Adulthood in Ethiopia.
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 chilld 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
Adolescent voices must shape policies designed to reduce early cohabitation in Peru.
As a researcher of Peruvian childhoods, I was invited to share insights from the Young Lives study in Peru at a recent conference on the international politics of child protection (held in Brazil). My particular contribution was to consider child rights and protection through the lens of adolescent girls’ experiences of cohabitation, informal unions and motherhood, based on a recent study in three Young Lives communities.
A key theme throughout the conference was that children’s and adolescents’ voices remain marginalised in policy discussions. My research shows that any policies that aim to reduce the levels of early cohabitation in Peru must be shaped by adolescents’ voiced experiences. A critical step to achieve this is to find more ways to empower adolescents – particularly girls – to have a stronger voice in their life choices.
There are many reasons why girls cohabit from young ages.
Latin America and the Caribbean is the only region worldwide where child marriage and early cohabitation is not decreasing (https://news.un.org/es/story/2018/04/1431011) and 23% of women aged 20 to 24 years old were married by age 18.
Our interviews with adolescent girls in Peru suggest that to reduce the prevalence of early unions requires, first, understanding why girls choose these relationships, and second, providing girls with attractive better alternatives.
Our research points towards a complex web of reasons why girls may choose cohabitation and marriage from young ages. These include: lack of social power within their family and intimate relationships; the desire to escape interpersonal and family violence; poor quality education; and poverty.
Many girls search for protection and material security, but are often unprepared and vulnerable
Those girls who had married at younger ages tended to come from poorer households and from rural areas and to have already dropped out of school. Many said they were attracted to cohabitation by the promise of protection, emotional security, care and financial support.
“He helped me; he bought me things, shoes, dishes, and pots… He told me; I’m going to support you” (Young woman from Pangoa, Peru).
The adolescent girls we spoke with told us that they had left their childhood home because they felt they had no say over decisions in their lives and they wanted to be free. However, once cohabiting, they went on to experience oppressive relations with their partners, as in the example of Yolanda who started cohabiting with her boyfriend at age 16:
“My father said that studying was not worthwhile for me, he said that I would not finish my studies because I would end up with a husband first. He always told me that, so I quit my studies. I met my partner, and we started living together. I was excited about it, I thought ‘I will finally make my own life’. But, my partner is a bit jealous. Sometimes when I say “I want to go out”, he says, “No!” I wanted to finish my studies, but that won’t happen now”.
The freedom that girls were looking for remained elusive, their lives in reality limited or controlled by their partners with whom they struggled to develop a healthy, balanced relationship. Our study found that girls who started cohabiting at a very young age (14 years old) were particularly vulnerable to physical and psychological abuse, and to forced sexual relations.
Schools are a crucial platform for intervening early on
At the conference in Brazil, discussions stressed the importance of investing in adolescent girls so that they are able to advocate for their rights across the life course. One essential space to build this capacity is in school. The positive picture is that in Peru, the gender gap in access to education is small and more girls than ever are finishing their basic education.
However, our research suggests that this is not yet giving adolescent girls a strong enough voice over their life choices or domestic situations. Early aspirations, acquired in part from being in school, are faltering as girls struggle to overcome unequal power relations within their households.
What needs to be done?
Access to education is crucial for girls, but we need to go further. In Peru, it is good that nowadays more girls are finishing basic education as is their right. However, we need to ask: are they receiving what they need to imagine and realise a different life?
From the start of school, girls needs to be encouraged to question gender roles and stereotypes and to learn about sexual reproductive health within the framework of a rights –based approach. If girls who attend school receive an education that helps them to understand gender inequalities and that empowers them, they can probably recognise that being involved in a partner relationship is not the only way to change their lives. Boys, young men and families, need to be included in this learning since girls along cannot shift the entrenched power relations that limit their life choices and their ability to exercise their rights. Only then will levels of early cohabitation start to fall.
As we approach the 30th Anniversary of the UN adoption of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, it is imperative that we step up action to ensure that children and adolescents are empowered to be resilient and to defend themselves against situations of any type of violence, but also to be in a better position to negotiate their life choices.
This is a snapshot of the findings from our research in Peru. Our full country report on early cohabitation and parenthood in Peru will be published soon. For updates, please follow up on @yloxford, @yMAPStudy, @NinosdelMilenio and on Facebook.
 The research was carried out as part of the multi-country Young Marriage and Parenthood Study (YMAPS), a collaboration between Young Lives and Child Frontiers involving case studies from Ethiopia, India, Peru and Zambia, funded from 2017-2020 by IDRC.
Tracing the consequences of child poverty - reflections from co-author Andrew Dawes on findings from 15 years of research
After several years in the making, ‘Tracing’, as we authors have come to call the volume, is published. What a journey it has been! Tracing draws on over 800 research papers, fact sheets, country reports and other outputs generated since the inception of the Young Lives study in 2001.
When asked by Jo Boyden to assist in this venture, I asked myself how on earth do we extract and synthesise Young Lives findings gathered over 16 years, to produce a concise account of the impact of poverty on children’s lives in four countries, that is at once scientifically rigorous, of interest to researchers in diverse fields, and perhaps most importantly, provides evidence that assists policy makers in their efforts to improve children’s lives?
Much of the answer lies in the deep knowledge of the project held by authors Jo Boyden and Paul Dornan who together with the Young Lives team, knew where to drill down to construct a powerful story of what matters in children’s lives both in relation to compounding disadvantage or supporting positive growth and development.
Both the Young Lives International Advisory Board and the ‘Tracing’ Advisory Group, or TAG as we called it, challenged us to go beyond the ‘business as usual’ child poverty story and mine for nuggets that would shift the policy and intervention discourse.
Taking this advice, we were able to demonstrate that while particular aspects of disadvantage are essential to address (e.g. under-nutrition; poor quality schooling), it is intersecting inequalities and disadvantages that are particularly powerful in undermining human development from before infancy through adolescence and youth. These include the poorest and rural children who are also members of marginalised groups (e.g. ethnic, caste or language), with less educated parents. Policies therefore need to pay particular attention to children who face these intersecting challenges.
A further example of the impact of intersecting disadvantage is evident from Latent Growth Modelling (LGM) an approach I discuss in an article here with Colin Tredoux. In Tracing, LGM traces the consequences of disadvantage in early and middle childhood and adolescence for the development of maths and language skills (vocabulary and reading comprehension). Modelling shows how children from poorer backgrounds with less educated caregivers either don't attend a preschool or attend one that is likely poor quality. That missed opportunity is associated with weaker quantitative and language skills by age five enduring through childhood.
A much-overlooked consequence of poverty is its potential impact on the psychological well-being of primary caregivers. LGM shows how the mental state of caregivers affected by poverty is related to child growth in the early years; those more negatively affected are likely to have children with stunted growth. That in turn compromises cognitive skills in both early and middle childhood. New challenges emerge in early adolescence for children who have to work to assist poor families - they have less time for schooling and studying. So a poor start compounded by other demands in later years contributes to poor skills development by adolescence. This in turn is likely to compromise education outcomes and ultimately the chance to enter further education, training and decent work.
Patterns such as this are evident throughout the Young Lives data and are what we refer to as Developmental Cascades, a term drawn from the work of Ann Masten and Dante Cicchetti As LGM shows, cascades occur both within and across stages of childhood development and build upon one another so that their effects accumulate to shape developmental outcomes over time.
For example, the study measured children’s height for their age at each Round. This enabled us to discover a very important nugget; evidence of both growth recovery and faltering during middle childhood. A proportion of children whose growth was stunted in early childhood showed normal growth in middle childhood, while some who had shown normal early growth, were stunted later. Thus early growth status is not necessarily fixed, indicating the potential for remedial intervention later in development. Particularly important is evidence that recovery is associated with cognitive gains in some children.
Another example comes from the qualitative data analysed by Gina Crivello and Ginny Morrow. The TAG encouraged us to seek examples of children who were ‘bucking the trend’ of expected negative outcomes despite their disadvantages. What was it about these children and their circumstances that made the difference, and how could this information be used to provide more enabling environments for children placed at risk by poverty? Gina and Ginny’s work, discussed here, found that it was a combination of mutually reinforcing factors such as child characteristics and enabling environments in the family and beyond which together diverted children at risk into positive pathways. They also found that to maintain this positive Development Cascade, the children needed sustained support through young adulthood.
In sum, Tracing has synthesized evidence from across the study and combined it with life course longitudinal analyses that permit examination of the cumulative influence of sources of risk, protection and opportunity from across childhood and through adolescence. This approach has allowed us to consider the implications of these findings for child-focused policy and programmes as low- and middle-income countries strive to overcome intergenerational poverty and inequality and meet the challenges of the Sustainable Development Goals. We will share Tracing’s findings with policy makers and practitioners in government and non-government settings to help inform debates on how best to secure children’s well-being, development and rights.
Tracing the consequences of child poverty is available digitally https://bit.ly/2TUOQRY and in print https://bit.ly/2U8vjwz. For news of Young Lives you can follow us on Twitter @yloxford, Facebook, and check our website www.younglives.org.
Youth Transitions - Skills, Work and Family Formation: Preliminary Findings from the Round 5 Survey in Ethiopia
Round 5 Longitudinal Youth Transitions: Skills Work and Family Formation Fact Sheet
This fact sheet presents findings from the fifth round of data collection carried out by Young Lives in Ethiopia in 2016. Young Lives has followed two cohorts of children born seven years apart since 2002. This fact sheet focuses on our Older Cohort (22-year-olds in 2016) to explore issues related to education, labour market skills, employment and marriage, and how young people’s opportunities in life are influenced by their gender, their family’s wealth level, and background circumstances. This fact sheet looks at the proportion of the Older Cohort who were still in school, were working full-time, or were neither studying nor working, and the imbalance in relation to poorer groups and those from rural areas. It also looks at the proportion of the young people in our sample who were married or already had a child of their own. Finally, it identifies differences between urban and rural areas in the use of digital devices.
- At 22 years of age, one-third of the Older Cohort children were still enrolled in formal education. Slightly more of them were men than women, reversing the situation at age 19 when more women were in education than men.
- Of those who were still in education, 41% were at university, 22% in vocational college, and the rest still at school. While more than half (53.4%) of the young people in the urban sites currently in education were at university, almost half (47.5%) of those in rural sites were still at school in grade 10 or below.
- For those who were no longer in schooling, more than half (52.5%) had left full-time education without a secondary level qualification.
- Almost one-third of the Older Cohort women were already married or cohabiting and just over a quarter had a child. Relatively few of the young men were married or cohabiting and even fewer had a child.
- About four fifths of the young people were in work. This figure was quite high across all groups, irrespective of gender. The poorest young people were the most likely to be in work. While 58% of the employed young people from rural sites were working in agriculture, 91% of those employed from the urban sites were working in other sectors.
- Usage of digital devices among 22-year-olds is low, and there is a huge difference between urban and rural areas in their use.
Educational Trajectories from Childhood to Early Adulthood: Aspirations, Gender and Poverty in Ethiopia
This working paper discusses educational trajectories and gendered outcomes in early adulthood in Ethiopia. It is based on the Young Lives longitudinal study of a cohort of children born in 1994, the year when the first educational policy that set out the subsequent expansion of formal schooling in Ethiopia was launched.
Young Lives research has shown that children have gone through irregular education trajectories. Poverty, location, gender, and family situation all played pivotal roles in shaping their educational pathways.
While the national educational data indicate that the number of girls in primary school is almost equal to that of boys, Young Lives research suggests that girls fared well in both primary and secondary education. One implication is that gender parity is achieved at lower educational levels where girls are numerically better-off. Such gender parity in school may, nevertheless, disguise gender inequality that is more visible in adulthood. The national figure is biased towards boys in post-secondary education, and Young Lives research also indicates that the gender gap is narrowing and boys are catching up fast.
Young Lives research has also shown that children’s increased participation in formal education was inspired by the combination of expectations from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Ethiopian Government’s determination to expand education, and the high educational aspirations held by both children and parents. On the other hand, poverty, low quality of education, gender stereotypes, and the limited scope of the MDGs remain major challenges to educational achievements in Ethiopia. International promises have been renewed in the hope that these challenges can be addressed by moving from the MDGs to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
During this research, different policy interventions on poverty, education, and gender were in place, but there was little coordination in their application in the communities. The paper concludes that coordinated interventions on poverty reduction, quality education, and gender equality are required for children to achieve their aspirations from formal schooling.
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.