Complex Issues Drive Young Marital Age in Southeast Asia Interview with:
“Marriage” by sowrirajan s is licensed under CC BY 2.0Dr Akanksha Marphatia and

co-authors, Dr Alice Reid and Dr Gabriel Amable
Cambridge, UK What is the background for this study?

Response: Although the total prevalence of girls marrying below the UN prescribed minimum age of 18 years has decreased over time, this is mostly due to a decrease in child marriages, <15 years. Marriages during adolescence, between 16-17 years, have increased. Women marring just after 18 years may also experience some of the consequences of those marrying under-age. These patterns are important to recognise because the predictors and consequences of marriage in these age groups are likely to differ.

The aim of our review was to summarise research evidence on why women’s marriage age, independent of early child-bearing, is a major public health issue. In the four South Asian countries of our review, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, marriage precedes reproduction. What are the main findings?

Response: Early marriage matters for public health. Our review of different literatures shows that marriage is the key ‘gateway’ to early-childbearing in South Asian countries. Early marriage has adverse consequences for women’s education, health and nutrition which may propagate multiple penalties to the next generation. Mapping the geographical distribution of under-age marriage in India also reveals the complexity of the issue. Whilst generally, women living in rural areas tend to marry at a younger age compared to those living in urban areas, there are some exceptions.

The increased policy research attention to delaying girls’ marriage age is very encouraging (see However, we have to better understand why some of the key initiatives have not as yet had the success we expected. For example, in order for increased education to have a greater effect on delaying girls’ marriage, it needs to be supported by other approaches to improve gender equality. This is important because otherwise, the overall status of women in society remains subordinated to their ‘value in marriage markets’. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Public health initiatives aiming to maximise the health of women and their children must first address the multiple factors that shape the age at which women marry. However, marriage is more than a socio-cultural decision. The age at which women marry is also partly shaped by a range of physiological, ecological, and geographical factors. This indicates a complex developmental pathway. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: To shed more light on this issue, we are using longitudinal data to disentangle the key drivers at the individual level of variable marriage age. We are also keen to look in greater detail at how inter-household dynamics and the autonomy of young brides both manifests in day-to-day living and in consequences for women and children. Geographical mapping of variability in women’s marriage age at regional and sub-regional levels, where possible, may help to improve future policies and interventions. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: The authors come from different theoretical backgrounds within the social sciences. This has enabled us to combine approaches and literatures across the public health, demographic, geographic, social scientific and policy fields. Our goal was to use this integrated approach to better understand the broader health and social predictors of women’s early marriage age. We also wanted to identify some of the methodological challenges in researching this complex issue.

Any disclosures? We have no disclosures. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Front. Public Health, 18 October 2017
Women’s Marriage Age Matters for Public Health: A Review of the Broader Health and Social Implications in South Asia
Akanksha A. Marphatia*, Gabriel S. Ambale and Alice M. Reid
Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.


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Last Updated on December 22, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD