Journal Article

Marriage and sexual experience of adolescent girls and women in West Gojam Zone, Amhara region, Ethiopia

There is an increasing interest to minimize the negative health outcomes of early and child marriage in Ethiopia. However, very little information exists on marriage and sexual experience of girls and women in the country.

The study aimed at examining marriage and sexual experience of adolescent girls and women in West Gojam Zone, Amhara region, and providing programmatic recommendations to improve their status and reproductive health.

This is a population-based study of adolescent girls and women aged 10 to 45 years in West Gojam zone, Amhara region between May to August 2005. Descriptive analysis was conducted to examine attitudes towards marriage, consent to marry, and experience of marriage as well as divorce, remarriage and sexual activity. A structured questionnaire was administered by trained interviewers. Females eligible for interview were randomly selected from the household listing. If more than one respondent was identified in a household, a Kish grid was used to select one female respondent. Data were entered using Epi-Info and later converted to SPSS for analysis.

A total of 3,223 adolescent girls and women aged 10 to 45 were interviewed. The ideal age at marriage for adolescent girls was relatively low: 16 years for girls compared to 20 years for boys. Median age at marriage being 17 among those aged 10 to 19, and 14 among those 20 to 29. The vast majority of marriages were arranged and very few included consent from the child bride. Most respondents first had sex within the context of marriage, meaning the timing of first sex and first birth was mainly driven by the timing of marriage.

Programs to delay marriage and support girls within marriage are critical. Such interventions should be reinforced with community based social change strategies to address underlying determinants of early marriage. Innovative social change strategies such as 'community conversations' have the potential to reduce the practice of early marriage in addition to interventions directed at girls themselves.