November 05, 2018

‘Child marriage’ in context: understanding the drivers of early marriage in rural Tanzania

Susan Schaffnit, University of California, Santa Barbara

A global campaign to end ‘child marriage’ (i.e. marriage before 18 years) has emerged over the last decade as part of growing international commitments to address gender inequities and improve female wellbeing. Proponents of this movement assert that young brides have negligible autonomy in the marriage process and that marrying under 18 years has resolutely negative impacts on wellbeing. This concern surrounding early marriage has largely proceeded without theoretical engagement with anthropologists and despite gaps in supporting evidence of harm to women. Using data collected in rural, northwest Tanzania where early marriage is common, I will (1) discuss local views on marriage, (2) test hypotheses as to why early marriage is common despite purported harm. Our findings suggest that early marriages can be understood as serving the strategic interests of both parents and daughters in some circumstances. I will discuss the generalizability of this finding and implications for the ‘end child marriage’ movement.

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