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Early marriage in Amhara, North Ethiopia: Characteristics and effects on reproductive health

Lisa Bowen, MPH1, Dawit Belew, MD MPH2, and Misganaw Fantahun, MD MPH2. (1) Program Development, Plan USA, 1730 N Lynn Street, Suite 600, Arlington, VA 22209, 703-807-1264, lisa.bowen@planusa.org, (2) Plan Ethiopia, Kirkos Sub City, Kebele 02, House 987, Gabon Road, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Ethiopia has a population of 74 million, 85 % of which resides in the rural areas. The practice of early marriage (before age 18)is prevalent, especially in the Amhara region of Northern Ethiopia where parents consent to their daughters' consummated marriages (betrothal occurs earlier) when they are still as young as 10 or 12. 50 % of girls are married by the age of 15, despite the enactment of the revised Family Law which sets the legal age for marriage at 18. PURPOSE: To assess the prevalence and impact of early marriage on the reproductive health of women in 20 rural communities of the Amhara Region. METHOD: Eight hundred eighty married women were interviewed and eleven focus group discussions were conducted. RESULTS: The mean age for the respondents was found to be 31.2 years ranging from 10 years to 75 years. 81.2% were found to be illiterate, and the majority was housewives and economically poor. Childhood (i.e. 10-13 years) and early adolescent (i.e. 14 to 17 years) marriage arrangements were practiced among 24.1% and 37.6% of the respondents, respectively. Conformity to the existing tradition and strengthening the relationship between the two sets of parents were the commonest reasons to sustain the practice of early marriage in the community. The following events were more frequent with an earlier marriage of the respondents(P=<0.05): (1) having more than four pregnancies in life, (2) not using family planning and antenatal care services, (3) having birth delivery at home, (4) having genital trauma during the first pregnancy, and (5) having stillbirths and abortions. At the time of the study, neither government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)had significant programs to prevent early marriage among this population. CONCLUSION: Based on the results of this study, both governments and NGOs (including Plan Ethiopia) began a multi-sectoral program to address early marriage. The program includes awareness raising among adolescents and their parents on the new Family Law, the training and support to local government authorities and community groups for its further dissemination and enforcement and the establishment of counseling facilities for adolescents. These methods and their results will be discussed in the presentation.

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: Reproductive Health,

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Not Answered

Reproductive Health: Innovations, Policy, and Access

The 134th Annual Meeting & Exposition (November 4-8, 2006) of APHA