Adolescent-led marriage in Somaliland and Puntland: a surprising interaction of agency and social norms

Author: Leah Kenny, Hamse Koshin, Munshi Sulaiman, Beniamino Cislaghi Year: 2019

This study based on focus groups and interviews with 156 young and older men and women ,brings a new look at drivers of child marriage in parts of Somaliland and Puntland.

The research found that although participants generally thought girls should not marry before 18, almost all participants said that child marriage had become more common in their village over the last decade.

They perceived this was due to adolescents eloping together, and reinforced by access to internet through smartphones. The study also found that most people in these communities believed that “respectable adolescents refrained from premarital sex” and that “married adolescents enjoy greater social status than their unmarried peers”. These norms were found as important drivers of both adolescent eloping and parents formally approving these union later on, to avoid perceived shame associated with relationships outside of marriage. Poverty was also found as a key driver of child marriage in these contexts.

The paper provides a number of recommendations for effective interventions to address child marriage:

  • The need to root any intervention on a deep understanding of the local context as agency and norms are very contextual
  • The need to work with both adolescents and families to challenge the norms that influence what options are available to adolescents
  • The need to address the role of modern communication technologies in interventions

The paper also calls for more research to explore how agency, technology and social norms interact and impact drivers of child marriage.

TAGS: Research article Somalia Sub-Saharan Africa Mobilising families and communities Social norm change Empowering girls