While child marriage before the age of 15 is a problem around the world, Bangladesh has the highest prevalence of very early child marriage, which often leads to intimate partner violence (IPV). A new study, based on research conducted in collaboration with Associate Professor Theresa Osypuk, looked at how the community prevalence of child marriage influences a woman’s risk of IPV in Bangladesh.
The study was published in the journal Demography.
“There are many places like Bangladesh in the world where women can’t fully express their basic human rights,” says Osypuk. “Men marry young girls because of strong social norms to do so, which reinforces local systems of male dominance. The identities of young girls aren’t fully formed, so it’s easier, in that case, for men to sustain dominance, often through violence.”
In Bangladesh, the incidence of IPV varies widely from village to village. To learn more about the relationship between child marriage and partner violence, the researchers interviewed more than 3,000 women from 77 rural villages about their experiences.
Specifically, the researchers tested if marrying after age 18 offered a protective effect against IPV. They also investigated if women in villages with a higher prevalence of very early child marriage (before age 15) suffered more violence. And finally, they explored if the protective effect of marrying at 18 or older was diminished in villages where child marriage was common.
The results showed that 45 percent of women reported recent intimate partner violence and 69 percent of women had married as children before age 18. Of those who married before 18, 20 percent were married before age 15. Women living in villages with a higher rate of child marriage experienced higher risk of intimate partner violence. And marrying over the age of 18 protected against IPV at the individual level.
The researchers also found a more complex association that showed marrying after age 18 protected women against violence in villages where early marriage was uncommon. However, the benefits of older marriage were negated in villages where early marriage was prevalent.
“This association suggests that the collective practice of very early child marriage is a feature of male dominance, and as a social norm, it interacts with the age at first marriage to increase risk of IPV among women,” says Osypuk.
Osypuk said the study has important implications for international organizations and policymakers who develop programs addressing health, wellbeing, and women’s rights.
“They can reduce the widespread practice of early child marriage and risk of intimate partner violence by investing in programs that enforce women’s rights and dismantle barriers to their development through education, anti-poverty, and norm-changing programs, particularly changing social norms among men,” says Osypuk.
Osypuk plans to continue research with this cohort of Bangladeshi women to examine other aspects of the community social environment and how it relates to intimate partner violence.