Socio-cultural Determinants of Early Female Marriage and Reproductive Health Outcomes in Eastern Ethiopia
Introduction: A considerably high proportion of Ethiopian women (about 66%) marry before 18 with median age for first marriage and sexual debut 16.5 and 16.6 years, respectively suggesting that Ethiopian women generally begin sexual intercourse at the time of their first marriages. Early marriage associated with this early sexual debut and limited use of contraceptive methods increases risks for reproductive health. However, the practice of early marriage having harmful effects on the well being of women and the determinants for the practice is not understood to the greater extent, particularly in the rural parts of the country. The purpose of the study was to investigate the socio-cultural determinants of early marriage and the associated reproductive health outcomes in one of the rural district of Oromia region of Eastern Ethiopia. Method: A cross-sectional study design that combines both quantitative and qualitative study methods was applied. A total of 423 women in the reproductive age group participated in the study. The selection of the study subjects for the quantitative study was made using a systematic random sampling method. A purposive sampling technique was used to select subjects for focus group discussion and in-depth interview. In analyzing the data, descriptive, bi-variate and multivariate statistical techniques were employed. Result: Only 18.4% were firstly married within the legal age of marriage. The mean age at first marriage was 16.04 years. More than half (56%) of the married women reported being pressured into marriage, most of the urging (74.2 %) comes from parents or relatives. Sixty percent of the women reported that they were not informed about the wedding as well as the person they would marry before the decision was made. Tradition was cited as a major cause (63%) for early marriage. Women who married earliest (ages 12- 14) encountered more health problems than those married between 15-17 years (8.1%versus 5.5%). The results of the multivariate analysis showed a strong association between different covariates and early age marriage. Conclusion: Findings underscore the subdued female adolescents’ role and right in the timing and choice of marriage at the expense of tradition in general, as well as that these girls hold a lesser place and control of their sexual and reproductive lives in particular.