However, our data reveal a complex picture, with some aspects consistent with more normative framings of child marriage and teenage parenthood, and others potentially challenging them and/or requiring further exploration. More girls (and boys) are marrying later – of the Young Lives sample of girls who were married by 20 years old, around 5% were married by age 13, whilst over 40% were married at ages 16 and 17. The risks faced by those married at 13 are likely to be very different than for those married at 17, but there is little attention to the diversity of married young people’s needs and interests at different stages of the life course.
There is also little focus on how norms and societal contexts are changing and who they are changing for. Some girls, for instance, are increasingly able to continue in education for longer and delay their marriage, whilst many others have been forced to leave school prematurely because of economic (and other) constraints. For a small number, marriage can sometimes offer an opportunity to continue in education where there is agreement and financial support from their husbands and in-laws. Less is also known about what happens to adolescent girls and boys once they are married, once they have children – what challenges do they face and what support do they need? Studies of sexual and reproductive health have predominantly focused on the needs of unmarried adolescent girls and adult women – married adolescent girls and boys have largely been overlooked.
Young Lives Oxford and India research teams have recently been working together to design a new qualitative study, intending to speak to married and unmarried adolescents about their role in decision-making around marriage and fertility as well as their needs, choices and experiences pertaining to sexual and reproductive health and parenthood in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Rather than assuming normative constructions, we want to explore with unmarried and married adolescents, young mothers and young fathers their own hopes, expectations and realities of marriage and parenthood, and the needs and support they experience in their transitions to adulthood.