Supporting Married, Cohabiting and Divorced Adolescents: Insights from Comparative Research

Gender, adolescence & youth
Gender
Adolescence and youth
Trajectories
Transitions
Early marriage and FGM
Marriage and parenthood
Policy paper

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

Gender, adolescence & youth
Gender
Adolescence and youth
Trajectories
Transitions
Early marriage and FGM
Marriage and parenthood
Research Report

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.  

We are publishing a policy brief to accompany this report which you can read here.  For more on YMAPS please read here

 

 

 

Young Marriage Parenthood and Divorce in Ethiopia

Gender, adolescence & youth
Gender
Adolescence and youth
Trajectories
Transitions
Early marriage and FGM
Marriage and parenthood
Research Report

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.’ 

Key findings

  • 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

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.

The findings

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).

What’s next?

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

The Young Marriage and Parenthood Study (YMAPS) – One Year On

Child Frontiers/Zambia
Gina Crivello

October marked one year into the Young Marriage and Parenthood Study  (YMAPS)  that brings together research from Young Lives (Ethiopia, Peru and the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana) and Child Frontiers (Zambia).

YMAPS is generating new evidence about what it is like to be an adolescent or young person who is married, in an informal union or a young parent in these settings. 

We did not begin the study with the acronym YMAPS and it took some time to finally decide on the project name. The geographical reference and ‘maps’ metaphor is intentional: firstly, the study aims to understand the life pathways of young people with respect to marriage and parenthood and secondly, we are interested in comparing young people’s experiences across different geographical contexts.

We take this opportunity to launch the first YMAPS policy brief ‘Understanding child marriage: Insights from comparative research’, highlighting findings from Young Lives and Child Frontiers’ earlier research on child marriage. The brief serves as a springboard into the next step for YMAPS research looking into the consequences of child marriage. A major activity in the project’s first phase was to review the national and international academic and policy debates and to reach out to key stakeholders to help us identify knowledge gaps and where YMAPS might add value.

Last February, country teams reported back on their findings during the first YMAPS project meeting hosted by Young Lives in Oxford, bringing together team members from Addis Ababa, Delhi, Lima, Lusaka, Ottawa, Oxford and Tirupati, and representatives from IDRC (the project funder).  

Image removed.

Team photo taken during inception meeting

Beyond prevention to understand the needs, experiences and aspirations of married girls and boys

Our reviews found that there is more evidence than ever on the drivers and predictors of child marriage, but there is much less evidence of policy, interventions and research focused on married girls and young women, couples and young parents, especially in the early years of marital life. Less still is known about cohabitation and other forms of union. The tendency to focus on individual girls and young women has meant that the experiences of boys and young men are marginal. Longitudinal data is lacking on the intergenerational impacts of adolescent marriage and parenthood. Moreover, we found that not enough consideration is given to the structural and contextual influences (urbanisation, migration, low levels of formal employment, climate change, food insecurity, etc.) affecting child marriage.

Fieldwork! Talking to married girls, boys, couples and young parents

Following the project meeting, we began to design the qualitative research tools in earnest ahead of the first fieldwork beginning earlier in the summer. New data collection is underway in Ethiopia, Peru and Zambia (photo) – working in one rural, urban, and peri-urban community in each country. In addition to looking into experiences of early marital life, we are gathering data on the joys and challenges of young motherhood and fatherhood, and whether their fertility outcomes match their earlier preferences and why. Findings from each country will be synthesised in a comparative report due out late 2019 and will include findings from a recent study undertaken by Young Lives in India (see report).

Child marriage does not look the same in different contexts

YMAPS is fortunate to tap into its comparative advantage, including four countries across three continents. There are striking differences between and within countries: for example, there appear to be more unions between adolescent girls and adolescent boys, and more examples of pregnancy before marriage and cohabitation in Zambia and Peru; a predominance of traditional arranged marriages in India, and a combination of arranged marriages, peer relationships and elopement in Ethiopia. As described in the policy brief, the transition to marital life is often difficult for adolescent girls and young women; there are few services designed to meet their sexual and reproductive, study and training, or social support needs.

The policy concerns differ too. In Peru the discourse is framed around ‘teenage pregnancy’ since young people tend to be in informal unions rather than formal marriages, whereas in the other three countries, early, forced and child marriages are the policy concern. Across these contexts, we are discovering great diversity in young people’s actual experiences. 

Looking ahead and staying in touch

Draft country reports will be available early 2019, and in the meantime, readers can look forward to learning more about what is coming out of the research through monthly blogs, including reflections from local fieldworkers. The best way to stay on top of developments within the study is to follow us on Twitter (@yMAPStudy) and to check the Young Lives website which hosts the YMAPS project. We will be posting information in due course about YMAPS global symposium on young marriage and parenthood which the Ethiopian Centre for Child Research (ECCR) will host in Addis Ababa in early 2020.

 

The Young Marriage and Parenthood Study (YMAPS) – One Year On

This October will mark one year into the comparative Young Marriage and Parenthood Study (YMAPS) that brings together research from Young Lives (Ethiopia, Peru and the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in India) and Child Frontiers (Zambia) to generate new evidence about what it is like to be an adolescent or young person who is married, in an informal union or a young parent in these settings. 

We did not begin the study with the acronym YMAPS and it took some time to finally decide on the project name. The geographical reference and ‘maps’ metaphor is intentional: firstly, the study aims to understand the life pathways of young people with respect to marriage and parenthood and secondly, we are interested in comparing young people’s experiences across different geographical contexts.

We take this opportunity to launch the first YMAPS policy brief ‘Understanding child marriage: the contribution of longitudinal and comparative research’ highlighting findings from Young Lives and Child Frontiers’ earlier research on child marriage. The brief serves as a springboard into the next step for YMAPS research looking into the consequences of child marriage. A major activity in the project’s first phase was to review the national and international academic and policy debates and to reach out to key stakeholders to help us identify knowledge gaps and where YMAPS might add value.

Last February, country teams reported back on their findings during the first YMAPS project meeting hosted by Young Lives in Oxford, bringing together team members from Addis Ababa, Delhi, Lima, Lusaka, Ottawa, Oxford and Tirupati, and representatives from IDRC (the project funder).  

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The Young Marriage and Parenthood Study (YMAPS) – One Year On

October marked one year into the comparative Young Marriage and Parenthood Study (YMAPS) that brings together research from Young Lives (Ethiopia, Peru and the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in India) and Child Frontiers (Zambia) to generate new evidence about what it is like to be an adolescent or young person who is married, in an informal union or a young parent in these settings. 

We did not begin the study with the acronym YMAPS and it took some time to finally decide on the project name. The geographical reference and ‘maps’ metaphor is intentional: firstly, the study aims to understand the life pathways of young people with respect to marriage and parenthood and secondly, we are interested in comparing young people’s experiences across different geographical contexts.

We take this opportunity to launch the first YMAPS policy brief ‘Understanding child marriage: Insights from comparative research’, highlighting findings from Young Lives and Child Frontiers’ earlier research on child marriage. The brief serves as a springboard into the next step for YMAPS research looking into the consequences of child marriage. A major activity in the project’s first phase was to review the national and international academic and policy debates and to reach out to key stakeholders to help us identify knowledge gaps and where YMAPS might add value.

Last February, country teams reported back on their findings during the first YMAPS project meeting hosted by Young Lives in Oxford, bringing together team members from Addis Ababa, Delhi, Lima, Lusaka, Ottawa, Oxford and Tirupati, and representatives from IDRC (the project funder).  

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Team photo taken during inception meeting

Beyond prevention to understand the needs, experiences and aspirations of married girls and boys

Our reviews found that there is more evidence than ever on the drivers and predictors of child marriage, but there is much less evidence of policy, interventions and research focused on married girls and young women, couples and young parents, especially in the early years of marital life. Less still is known about cohabitation and other forms of union. The tendency to focus on individual girls and young women has meant that the experiences of boys and young men are marginal. Longitudinal data is lacking on the intergenerational impacts of adolescent marriage and parenthood. Moreover, we found that not enough consideration is given to the structural and contextual influences (urbanisation, migration, low levels of formal employment, climate change, food insecurity, etc.) affecting child marriage.

Fieldwork! Talking to married girls, boys, couples and young parents

Following the project meeting, we began to design the qualitative research tools in earnest ahead of the first fieldwork beginning earlier in the summer. New data collection is underway in Ethiopia, Peru and Zambia – working in one rural, urban, and peri-urban community in each country. In addition to looking into experiences of early marital life, we are gathering data on the joys and challenges of young motherhood and fatherhood, and whether their fertility outcomes match their earlier preferences and why. Findings from each country will be synthesised in a comparative report due out late 2019 and will include findings from a recent study undertaken by Young Lives in India (see report).

Child marriage does not look the same in different contexts

YMAPS is fortunate to tap into its comparative advantage, including four countries across three continents. There are striking differences between and within countries: for example, there appear to be more unions between adolescent girls and adolescent boys, and more examples of pregnancy before marriage and cohabitation in Zambia and Peru; a predominance of traditional arranged marriages in India, and a combination of arranged marriages, peer relationships and elopement in Ethiopia. As described in the policy brief, the transition to marital life is often difficult for adolescent girls and young women; there are few services designed to meet their sexual and reproductive, study and training, or social support needs.

The policy concerns differ too. In Peru the discourse is framed around ‘teenage pregnancy’ since young people tend to be in informal unions rather than formal marriages, whereas in the other three countries, early, forced and child marriages are the policy concern. Across these contexts, we are discovering great diversity in young people’s actual experiences. 

Looking ahead and staying in touch

Draft country reports will be available early 2019, and in the meantime, readers can look forward to learning more about what is coming out of the research through monthly blogs, including reflections from local fieldworkers. The best way to stay on top of developments within the study is to follow us on Twitter (@yMAPStudy) and to check the Young Lives website which hosts the YMAPS project. We will be posting information in due course about YMAPS global symposium on young marriage and parenthood which the Ethiopian Centre for Child Research (ECCR) will host in Addis Ababa in early 2020.

 

IMPACT CASE STUDY Influencing policy on child marriage in India and Ethiopia

Gender, adolescence & youth
Early marriage and FGM
Impact case study

This Young Lives impact case study describes our influence of policy on child marriage in India and Ethiopia. For related impact stories, please follow us on Twitter @yloxford.

In overview:

  • 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.

Influencing policy on child marriage in India and Ethiopia

Early marriage and FGM
Impact case study