Child marriage and domestic violence: what we found in 16 African countries
By Anthony Idowu Ajayi
* – The Conversation
of girls who marry before their 15th birthday has remained unchanged for 20
years in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The region has the highest rate
of child marriage, with nearly four in 10 girls married before age 18. In Niger, for example, over 77% of girls are married
before the age of 18.
despite efforts by governments, developmental partners and civil society
organisations to end the practice. There are many reasons why it continues. These include inequitable gender
norms, laws that permit children to be married in some settings in sub-Saharan
Africa, inadequate investment in girls’ education, poverty and unintended
pregnancy. In addition, child marriage is backed and justified by culture and
The effects of child marriage on the health and wellbeing
of girls are far-reaching and lifelong. It harms their overall health and
socioeconomic wellbeing, the survival of their children, and the prosperity of
their family and community. Because child marriage harms girls’ physical health
and socioeconomic wellbeing, it is considered a human
consequences of child marriage have received significant attention. But only a
few studies have examined the relationship between child marriage and intimate
partner violence. One study done in Vietnam in 2013 found that there was a link between
Our study examined the relationship between
child marriage and intimate violence in sub-Saharan Africa. We analysed the
most recent demographic and health survey data of over 28,000 young women in 16
countries in the region. The survey data encompasses several health and
wellbeing indicators including domestic violence. We extracted relevant
information about domestic violence as well as the background characteristics
of the respondents.
that girls aged 20-24 years who married before they turned 18 were 20% more
likely to experience intimate partner violence than those who married as
principal aim was to assess the association between child marriage and intimate
partner violence – physical, sexual or emotional – from a partner. We also
compared the rate of intimate partner violence between those who married as
adults and those who married as children in the past 12 months.
data of countries from all four sub-regions within sub-Saharan Africa. In
Central Africa, we included Angola, Cameroon and Chad. From West Africa we
included Benin, Mali and Nigeria and from the east Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda,
Tanzania and Uganda. Within Southern Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa,
Zambia and Zimbabwe were selected.
were selected on the basis of the availability of recent survey datasets.
Physical violence: women
had been asked whether their partners had ever pushed, shaken or thrown
something at them, slapped or punched them, kicked or dragged them.
Emotional violence: women
had been asked if their partner ever humiliated them, threatened them with
harm, insulted or made them feel bad.
questions had included whether the partner ever physically forced the
respondent into unwanted sexual acts.
analysis of the demographic and health survey data showed that child marriage
prevalence ranged from 13.5% in Rwanda to 77% in Chad. Intimate partner
violence ranged from 17.5% in Mozambique to 42% in Uganda.
experience of intimate partner violence was higher among young women who
married or began cohabiting before the age of 18 (36.9%) than those who did at
age 18 or more (32.5%).
was consistent for all forms of violence: physical violence (22.7% vs 19.7%),
emotional violence (25.3% vs 21.9%), and sexual violence (12% vs 10.4%).
accounting for the contributions of important socio-demographic characteristics
such as educational level, place of residence, wealth status and exposure to
mass media, we found that child marriage had a higher association with intimate
partner violence than marriage at adulthood.
our findings reaffirm the link between child marriage and intimate partner
violence. We found that there was a higher likelihood of intimate partner
violence in 14 of the 16 countries. Angola and Chad stood out as exceptions.
results show, child marriage is associated with a higher likelihood of intimate
partner violence in most sub-Saharan African countries. This suggests that
ending child marriage would result in a substantial reduction.
therefore a need to institute policies to support and protect women who marry
as children from abusive relationship.
cultural norms that make men unaccountable is critical to ending both child
marriage and intimate partner violence. And this can be done through the
creation of strict laws. Currently, 43 of the 55 African Union member
states have legal frameworks that put the minimum age of marriage at 18 years
old or above for both boys and girls. However, 27 of these states allow child
marriage with parental or guardian consent and the approval of a judge, court
or state. Ten countries allow for the marriage of girls as young as 10. One,
the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, has no law against child marriage.
countries should have laws. And these should be strictly enforced.
sensitisation on the damaging effects of both child marriage and intimate
partner violence is equally critical. This could be implemented with the
involvement of various stakeholders, including community and religious leaders.
*Anthony Idowu Ajayi is affiliated with the African Population and Health Research Center.
Collaborators:Abdul-Aziz Seidu .PhD (Public Health)
candidate, James Cook University – Bright Opoku Ahinkorah . PhD (Public
Health) student at the school of Public Health, Faculty of Health, University
of Technology Sydney