Changes in the prevalence of child marriage in Ethiopia, 2005–2016

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: Child marriage has powerful implications for a young woman’s reproductive health, education, and personal development as well as the development of communities and nations. Child marriage frequently marks the beginning of a young woman’s sexual activity and early childbearing. As a country where child marriage is common, Ethiopia has placed additional emphasis on addressing child marriage over the past years. Methods: Using data from Ethiopia Demographic and Health Surveys for 2005, 2011 and 2016, this paper explores trends in child marriage over the last decade in various locations and regions of Ethiopia. Results: Between 2005 and 2016, the percentage of young Ethiopian women married before age 18 declined from 49 to 40%, a reduction of 18% from 2005 levels. The percentage of women married before age 15 experienced even greater reductions, declining by 26% in the same period. The greatest reductions in child marriage took place in the Addis Ababa, Amhara, and Tigray regions. Over the period, estimates for Oromia and Somali suggest that child marriage has increased in these regions. Notwithstanding recent declines, Afar, Beneshangul-Gumuz, Somali, and Oromia are regions where nearly half or more of all girls are married before age 18. Conclusions: Nationally, Ethiopia has experienced impressive declines in child marriage over the last decade. However, progress has also been uneven. Trends in the last decade have resulted in a geographical shift in where child marriage is most prevalent. In particular, locations that are challenging in terms of access, including the most remote and hard to reach, pose persistent challenges to those attempting to eradicate the practice. Intensifying efforts in rural areas and underserved regions can facilitate further declines in child marriage in Ethiopia.