Adolescent girls continue to have little say in who and when they marry or the timing of their sexual debut. Even after marrying, other people garner considerable authority over young women’s bodies, roles and reproductive trajectories. Major decisions affecting their reproductive health and trajectories are made by, in consultation with, or in consideration of significant others in their lives – their husbands, in-laws, natal families and health workers – and in light of the perceived role of destiny in determining fertility fates. Improved access to schooling is not translating to improved reproductive choice. Girls alone will not shift the entrenched norms and economic conditions that contribute to their social marginalization. Strategies must include girls and boys, their families, other gatekeepers, and their wider communities. Girls and women’s social value needs to be broadened beyond their roles as wives, mothers and mothers-in-law.
One in three girls married in childhood worldwide live in India. The timing of childbearing is linked to the timing of marriage, so that marrying young increases the likelihood of early childbearing. In India, as elsewhere, the main focus is on the prevention and delay of girls’ marriage under the age of 18. India’s government has a long history of legislating, policymaking,and program development to affect and improve child marriage and adolescent sexual and
reproductive health (SRH) outcomes. However, the pace of change is slow. Much less attention is directed toward understanding the everyday lives of adolescent married girls in the early phases of marital life, including their capacity to negotiate decisions affecting their fertility outcomes and their reproductive trajectories over time.
This report presents findings from a qualitative sub-study exploring adolescent girls and young couples’ experiences of marital and fertility decision-making in two southern Indian states (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana). Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are among the top states reporting high adolescent fertility: 12 and 11 per cent of young women age 15-19 in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, respectively, were already mothers or pregnant when surveyed in 2015/16. This research was carried out as part of Young Lives, a longitudinal study of childhood poverty that traced the life trajectories of 3,000 children (in two age groups) and their households located in these states, over a 15-year period. By age 18, around 30 per cent of girls in the Young Lives study had married, and 23 per cent of these married girls had also become mothers.