Being dragged into adulthood? Young people’s agency concerning sex, relationships and marriage in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia

Maryse C. Kok*, Zoe van Eldik, Tasneem Kakal, Alister Munthali, Anitha Menon, Paulo Pires, Pam Baatsen, Anke van der Kwaak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

This study aimed to explore how young people exercise agency in rural Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia in relation to sex, relationships and marriage, to inform local programmes aiming to prevent teenage pregnancy and child marriage. In each country, focus group discussions with young people and parents, in-depth interviews with young people and a variety of other participants, and a household survey with young people (15-24 years) were conducted. We found that (child) marriage was often a response to teenage pregnancy, which was highly prevalent in all study areas. Young people’s aspirations to enter adulthood were influenced by their life circumstances. Initiation ceremonies symbolised the transition to adulthood and gave social endorsement to young people to start engaging in (often unprotected) sexual activity. Given the uncertain socio-economic context, resource constraints led families to marry off their daughters; or girls themselves to marry early to relieve the burden on their families, but also to get pregnant as a ‘next step’ towards adulthood. Transactional sex was common. These intersecting cultural, social and economic contextual factors constrained young women’s agency, more as compared to young men. However, young women did manoeuvre within contextual constraints to exercise a degree of agency.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCulture, Health and Sexuality
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Feb 2021

Keywords

  • Agency
  • marriage
  • sexual relationships
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • young people

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Being dragged into adulthood? Young people’s agency concerning sex, relationships and marriage in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this