Early marriage limits girls’ opportunities and compromises their health, yet in Sub-Saharan Africa many girls are married before the age of 18, and few programs have sought to increase the age at marriage on the continent.
Berhane Hewan was a two-year pilot project conducted in 2004-2006 that aimed to reduce the prevalence of child marriage in rural Ethiopia, through a combination of group formation, support for girls to remain in school and community awareness. A quasi-experimental research design with baseline and endline surveys was used to measure changes in social and educational participation, marriage age, reproductive health knowledge and contraceptive use. Chi-square tests, proportional hazards models and logistic regressions were conducted to assess changes associated with the project.
The intervention was associated with considerable improvements in girls’ school enrollment, age at marriage, reproductive health knowledge and contraceptive use. Particularly among girls aged 10-14, those exposed to the program were more likely than those in the control area to be in school at the endline survey (odds ratio, 3.0) and were less likely to have ever been married (0.1). However, among girls aged 15-19, those in the intervention area had an elevated likelihood of having gotten married by the endline (2.4). Sexually experienced girls exposed to the intervention had elevated odds at endline of having ever used contraceptives (2.9).
The success of the Berhane Hewan program, one of the first rigorously evaluated interventions to delay marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa, suggests that well-designed and effectively implemented programs can delay the earliest marriages until later adolescence.