Child marriage and intimate partner violence: a comparative study of 34 countries

Int J Epidemiol. 2017 Apr 1;46(2):662-675. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw225.


Background: : Studies in South Asia suggest that child marriage is a strong risk factor for intimate partner violence (IPV), but evidence outside the region is lacking.

Methods: : This study uses standardized data from demographic and health surveys in 34 countries to test the hypothesis that young women (age 20-24) who married as children are at increased risk of past year physical and/or sexual IPV as compared with those women who married as adults.

Results: : Globally, 9% of respondents were married before they turned 15; another 25% were married between the ages of 15 and 17. Past year physical and/or sexual IPV was higher among women who married as children (29%) compared with those who married as adults (20%). This difference persisted in logistic regression models that adjust for sociodemographic characteristics [odds ratio (OR) 1.41 (1.30-1.52) for marriage before 15, and 1.42 (1.35-1.50) for marriage at 15-17]. However, there was considerable heterogeneity between countries: marriage before age 15 was associated with a combined measure of past year physical and/or sexual IPV in nine countries; women married between 15 and 17 were at increased risk of physical and/or sexual IPV in 19 countries. This heterogeneity was most evident in sub-Saharan Africa, and warrants further investigation in so far as it may help identify protective policies and norms.

Conclusion: : Substantial reductions in IPV will likely require interventions to combat child marriage itself and to protect women from IPV within child marriages.

Keywords: Intimate partner violence; child marriage; cross-national comparison; demographic and health survey.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • International Cooperation
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Marriage / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • Spouse Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult