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Child Marriage and Intimate Partner Violence in Rural Bangladesh: A Longitudinal Multilevel Analysis

Abstract

Child marriage (before age 18) is a risk factor for intimate partner violence (IPV) against women. Worldwide, Bangladesh has the highest prevalence of IPV and very early child marriage (before age 15). How the community prevalence of very early child marriage influences a woman’s risk of IPV is unknown. Using panel data (2013–2014) from 3,355 women first married 4–12 years prior in 77 Bangladeshi villages, we tested the protective effect of a woman’s later first marriage (at age 18 or older), the adverse effect of a higher village prevalence of very early child marriage, and whether any protective effect of a woman’s later first marriage was diminished or reversed in villages where very early child marriage was more prevalent. Almost one-half (44.5 %) of women reported incident physical IPV, and 78.9 % had married before age 18. The village-level incidence of physical IPV ranged from 11.4 % to 75.0 %; the mean age at first marriage ranged from 14.8 to 18.0 years. The mean village-level prevalence of very early child marriage ranged from 3.9 % to 51.9 %. In main-effects models, marrying at 18 or later protected against physical IPV, and more prevalent very early child marriage before age 15 was a risk factor. The interaction of individual later marriage and the village prevalence of very early child marriage was positive; thus, the likely protective effect of marrying later was negated in villages where very early child marriage was prevalent. Collectively reducing very early child marriage may be needed to protect women from IPV.

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Notes

  1. We use “early marriage” and “child marriage” interchangeably to refer to first marriage before age 18. We use “very early marriage” and “very early child marriage” interchangeably to refer to first marriage before age 15.

  2. According to Bicchieri et al. (2014), descriptive norms are collective practices arising from preferences that are conditional on empirical expectations about what people in the community do. Social norms are collective practices arising from preferences that are conditional on normative expectations, or what people should do. We argue on theoretical grounds that very early child marriage historically has been a social norm in Bangladesh; however, we acknowledge that we lack data regarding the underlying expectations on which social norms are conditioned.

  3. The lower estimates suggest that IPV is not inevitable (Yount et al. 2011b) and that methodological issues may influence reporting of IPV (Yount et al. 2014).

  4. For example, the man may feel more strongly that he needs to “teach” the wife proper subservient behavior (using IPV) because she may have picked up more independent habits. Or the husband may feel he needs to show the community that his power over his wife is absolute, despite her being older and potentially more empowered. The very young bride, in contrast, becomes a child in the new household and, arguably, more gradually learns to comply with gender norms under the tutelege of the in-laws and co-wives.

  5. We do not consider mediators, such as postmarital dowry and household socioeconomic status in adulthood.

  6. Community-average household income has not been associated with a woman’s risk of experiencing physical IPV in Bangladesh (VanderEnde et al. 2015); however, given its theoretical relevance, we considered it as a control.

  7. The baseline sample included 78 villages; however, one village was lost to follow-up because of flooding.

  8. For villages with more than 500 households, village segments of 200 were selected.

  9. Information about these organizations is available online (https://www.icddrb.org and https://www.fhi360.org).

  10. Other individual-level controls capturing postmarital resources of the woman or her household (e.g., her market work, household wealth), were excluded because these arguably mediate the relationship of her age at marriage and IPV.

  11. Because we lacked follow-up data for the senior married women, we could not compare results for a wider range of marriage cohorts.

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Acknowledgments

This article was drafted when Dr. Crandall was a post-doctoral fellow in the Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory University. We thank Md. Mahfuz Al Mamun for his leadership of the data collection and data management for the survey component of this project. We also thank the field team and the participants, without whom this project would not have been possible. Authors appear in the order of contribution. Kathryn M. Yount developed the idea for this article, supervised the data analysis, drafted most of the paper, and edited for critical content. AliceAnn Crandall performed most of the data analysis, drafted parts of the article, and edited for critical content. Yuk Fai Cheong finalized the data analysis, drafted parts of the article, and edited for critical content. Theresa L. Osypuk, Lisa M. Bates, and Ruchira T. Naved drafted parts of the article, and Sidney Ruth Schuler revised the article for critical content. This work was supported by research Grant 1R01HD061630-01A1 (PI Schuler) and the Hubert Department of Global Health, Rollins School of Public Health, at Emory University.

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Yount, K.M., Crandall, A., Cheong, Y.F. et al. Child Marriage and Intimate Partner Violence in Rural Bangladesh: A Longitudinal Multilevel Analysis. Demography 53, 1821–1852 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-016-0520-8

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Keywords

  • Bangladesh
  • Child marriage
  • Communities
  • Multilevel analysis
  • Intimate partner violence