Drivers of child marriage in specific settings of Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia – findings from the Yes I Do! baseline study

Maryse C. Kok, Tasneem Kakal, Abeje Berhanu Kassegne, Irwan M. Hidayana, Alister Munthali, J. Anitha Menon, Paulo Pires, Tabither Gitau, Anke van der Kwaak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Child marriage persists in many countries and has severe impacts on health, education, economic and social status of girls. Child marriage has many interlinked causes. This study aimed to explore the drivers of child marriage in specific contexts in Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. Methods: The study combined a household survey among youth (15-24 years) with focus group discussions and interviews conducted with youth (15-24 years) and parents. A variety of community stakeholders were interviewed as well. Logistic regression was done to explore associations between individual and family-level characteristics of young women and the occurrence of child marriage. Transcripts were analysed using an inductive approach. Narratives on the main drivers of child marriage across study contexts were written and inspired by the theory of normative spectrum. Results: A lack of education was associated with the occurrence of child marriage in Ethiopia, Kenya and Zambia. In all countries, teenage pregnancy was associated with child marriage. In Ethiopia, Kenya and Mozambique, fathers’ education seemed a protective factor for child marriage. Narratives of study participants showed that in Ethiopia, Indonesia and (to a lesser extent) Kenya, child marriage was perceived as an ‘appropriate practice’ to avoid premarital sex or pregnancy, whether it involved sex with or without consent. In all countries, child marriage was driven by difficult economic circumstances, which were often intertwined with disapproved social circumstances, in particular teenage pregnancy, in case of Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. These circumstances made child marriage an ‘acceptable practice’. Some youth, particularly in Indonesia, made their own choices to marry early, making child marriage a ‘possible practice’. Conclusions: Multiple intersecting drivers, which were present in different degrees in each country setting, influenced the occurrence of child marriage. We found that child marriage is a manifestation of social norms, particularly related to girls’ sexuality, which are intersecting with other factors at individual, social, material, and institutional level – most prominently poverty or economic constraints. Child marriage was, in some cases, a result of girls’ agentic choices. Efforts to prevent child marriage need to take these realities of girls and their families into account.

Original languageEnglish
Article number794
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Child marriage
  • Gender
  • Sexuality
  • Social norms
  • Teenage pregnancy


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