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Students and brides: a qualitative analysis of the relationship between girls’ education and early marriage in Ethiopia and India



Early marriage (< 18 years) is associated with education cessation among girls. Little research has qualitatively assessed how girls build resiliency in affected contexts. This study examines these issues in Oromia, Ethiopia and Jharkhand, India among girls and their decision-makers exposed to early marriage prevention programs.


Qualitative interviews were conducted with girls who received the intervention programs and subsequently either a) married prior to age 18 or b) cancelled/postponed their proposed early marriage. Girls also selected up to three marital decision-makers for inclusion in the study. Participants (N = 207) were asked about the value and enablers of, and barriers to, girls' education and the interplay of these themes with marriage, as part of a larger in-depth interview on early marriage. Interviews were transcribed, coded, and analyzed using latent content analysis.


Participants recognized the benefits of girls' education, including increased self-efficacy and life skills for girls and opportunity for economic development. A girl's capacity and desire for education, as well as her self-efficacy to demand it, were key psychological assets supporting school retention. Social support from parents and teachers was also important, as was social support from in-laws and husbands to continue school subsequent to marriage. Post-marriage education was nonetheless viewed as difficult, particularly subsequent to childbirth. Other noted barriers to girls' education included social norms against girls' education and for early marriage, financial barriers, and poor value of education.


Social norms of early marriage, financial burden of school fees, and minimal opportunity for girls beyond marriage affect girls' education. Nonetheless, some girls manifest psychological resiliency in these settings and, with support from parents and teachers, are able to stay in school and delay marriage. Unfortunately, girls less academically inclined, and those who do marry early, are less supported by family and existing programs to remain in school; programmatic efforts should be expanded to include educational support for married and childbearing girls as well as options for women and girls beyond marriage.

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