Child marriage, Adolescent pregnancy and Family formation in West and Central Africa. Patterns, trends and drivers of change
ICRW and UNICEF, 2015.
Ce rapport examine les causes du mariage des enfants et de la grossesse chez les adolescentes en Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre. Quelques faits intéressants sont notamment le fait que des 15 pays où le taux de mariage des enfants est supérieur à 30%, neuf sont situés en Afrique occidentale et centrale, le Niger ayant les taux les plus élevés du monde; 76,3% des femmes du Niger âgées de 20 à 24 ans étaient mariées à l’âge de 18 ans.
UNICEF reports that “of the 15 countries where the rate of child marriage is over 30 percent, nine are in West and Central Africa, with Niger having the highest rates in the world; 76.3% of women in Niger aged 20-24 were married by age 18. The West and Central Africa region has the highest adolescent birth rates in the world, at close to 200 births per 1,000 girls.
What are the causes of child marriage and adolescent pregnancy in West and Central Africa? Among these girls, data shows high levels of poverty among adolescents, high levels of school dropout among girls, and low use of reproductive health services.
What is the relationship between child marriage and adolescent pregnancy in the region?
The median ages of child marriage have increased in in West and Central Africa as a whole, although this has been uneven. Many countries have also experienced either a “stall” in the speed of change or even a reversal towards higher rates of marriage and child bearing among adolescents. Child marriage is strongly associated with lower use of modern contraception, higher fertility, and a greater likelihood of being in a polygamous union.
The median age at first birth has fallen in the majority of countries in the region, particularly in West Africa, meaning more women are having children at younger ages, and in half of the countries, the median age at first sexual intercourse has increased. A large proportion of sexual activity in the region takes place prior to marriage, particularly in West Africa Young women 20-24 in nearly all countries are more likely to have sex, birth and marriage before 18 if they have no education, live in a rural area and are poorer.
Child marriage should be approached as part of a broader and dynamic process of family formation that is affected by deep demographic, economic, and sociocultural changes. There is nuanced relationship between economic insecurity, education, the timing of marriage, and how they affect family relationships differently in a rural and urban setting.
Further research needed
- Further research is needed to understand the geographical distribution of child marriage in the region and how this is linked to broader socio-cultural determinants, including ethnicity and religion.
- More research is also needed to better understand how child marriage is linked to economic aspects beyond poverty, such as migration abroad.
- Further research should emphasize regional/local contexts. The emphasis should be given to investigating in detail the layers that have the most direct influence in shaping behavior and that apply to the settings in which the research is being conducted and accounts for the social and economic change on family structure and relationships specific to that setting.
- To address the challenge of clearly assigning a causal relationship between family formation patterns and key causes/consequences, there is a need for an in-depth qualitative research across the region, allowing for a more nuanced assessment of causality. This approach could be effective if combined with a purposive selection of ‘comparison’ sites that differ primarily in terms of key theorized determinants of child marriage, such as education, while remaining similar in other aspects such as rural/urban status.
- There is need for longitudinal data, both quantitative and qualitative, that follows individuals or communities over a significant period
- Finally, there is need for examination of child marriage within a gendered context that focuses on the relational aspect of the process of family formation, in terms of differentials between men and women in terms of decision-making power around marriage, sexual activity and childbearing.”
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