HER CHOICE – Baseline Study on Child Marriage in 11 countries

This report presents the findings of the HER CHOICE baseline study on the issue of child marriage. HER CHOICE is one of three Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) alliances working in partnership with the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. HER CHOICE is an alliance of four Netherlands based organisations: Stichting Kinderpostzegels Nederland (SKN), The Hunger Project (THP) Netherlands, International Child Development Initiatives (ICDI) and the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research/University of Amsterdam (AISSR/UvA). The alliance, which seeks to support the creation of child-marriage free communities, works with a total of 32 local partners in 11 countries: Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Nepal, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Uganda.

A mixed-methods approach was utilised for the baseline study, building on both quantitative and qualitative data. A total of nine tools were used in each country – consisting of (semi-)structured surveys (with girls aged 12 – <18, household heads, heads of health centres, health centre staff, school principals, school teachers, village leaders and district administration personnel) and focus group discussions with school going young men and women. The two largest study populations were girls aged 12 – <18 (total of 5354) and household heads (total of 3421).

Key findings

  • Girls’ decision making over their marriage is very low in most countries. Boys have a greater space to make decisions – as found in FGDs – but this space too is still limited.
  • The majority of child marriages are informal in nature – a likely explanation being the illegal nature of child marriage across the 11 countries.
  • (Fear of) sexual debut and premarital pregnancy were amongst key reasons found as to why young women were “married off” or sought to get married themselves.
  • Economic drivers were also key in explaining the persistence of child marriage; families may marry their girls young to ease economic hardship, because of the incentives of a higher bride price or lower dowry, or to improve the economic security of daughters. At the same time, young women (and men) were at times found to actively choose to marry early if they believed there was an economic benefit to doing so.
  • Young women were found to have strikingly low levels of SRHR-related knowledge in most countries, even where they had received SRHR education. This may be because SRHR teachers themselves were found to lack training and knowledge on issues, and are shy in discussing certain topics with young people.
  • Many girls did not know of the SRHR services available to them, and those that did made little use of them. Data concerning services provided and training received by health care workers indicate that most facilities could not be considered “girl-friendly”.
  • Contraceptive use was low amongst single young women who were sexually active, likely linked to their low levels of SRHR knowledge, and low use of SRHR services.
  • Village leaders were caught between the imperative to implement national laws against child marriage and local norms and customs of early marriage.

Click here to read the full report: baseline report Her Choice 2017