Learning Collaborative Measurement Project Summaries
Project summary
21 January 2021

Preventing early marriage in rural Gambia

Author: Rebecca Justus
Published by: The Learning Collaborative to Advance Normative Change

Organizations involved

Society for the Study of Women's Health (SSWH); Agency for the Development of Women and Children (ADWAC)


The overall aim of this study, which was published in November 2019, was to determine the factors that either led to a decline in or perpetuated early marriage. That information is intended to be used to design and implement a contextually relevant and scalable package of interventions to reduce the prevalence of early marriage among female adolescents age 10-19 in rural communities in Lower and Central Badibu Districts in the North Bank Region of The Gambia. The expected outcome of this project will be changes in knowledge of and attitudes towards early marriage and its prevention at the individual and community levels following the implementation of the package of interventions. The lessons learned will be used to identify factors that can facilitate or hinder the scaling up of the interventions to other communities to reduce the prevalence of early marriage in The Gambia.

Social norms of interest

Gender roles; social norms around early marriage

Behaviors of interest

Early marriage prevention; elimination of gender-based violence

Project components

The study involved a cross-sectional household survey with a sample of 915 respondents aged 10+ stratified by ethnicity and age. Households were selected by systematic sampling and convenience sampling of respondents within households within three age categories: 10-19 years; 20-39 years and 40+. The research team selected two case study villages and conducted interviews and focus groups discussions in the selected case study villages.

Social norms measurement

Community engagement forums and discussion sessions focusing on the social norms around early marriage and capacity building for key community stakeholders; empowering girls with information on early marriage, sexual and reproductive health and rights and skills for revenue generating activities; engaging boys and men as advocate of change; supporting girls to remain in school; group formation for adolescent girls and boys.

Key findings to date

The study found that ethnicity and the fear that girls may engage in premarital sex are two important factors associated with early marriage in rural Gambia. In addition, a lack of meaningful alternatives to marriage, including work opportunities in rural areas, may also limit the options and resources available to girls, resulting in early wedlock. These findings suggest that in order to decrease early marriages in rural Gambia, future efforts should focus on understanding and addressing the role of ethnicity in determining marriage patterns and allaying the fear around premarital sex. The findings also suggest a need to provide girls with employment-oriented education, such as vocational skills, which may result in increased empowerment and a delay in marriage.

Attribution statement

Lowe, M., Joof ,M., and Rojas, B. M. (2019) Social and cultural factors perpetuating early marriage in rural Gambia: an exploratory mixed methods study. F1000Res. 2019;8:1949 

The study tools used were adapted from a similar study in Ethiopia and from the Demographic Health Survey (DHS) of The Gambia. The preferred citation for these methodologies/tools are:

Gage, A. (2009) Coverage and Effects of Child Marriage Prevention Activities in Amhara Region, Ethiopia.US AID.

The Gambia Bureau of Statistics (GBOS) and ICF International (2014) The Gambia Demographic and Health Survey 2013. Banjul, The Gambia, and Rockville, Maryland, USA: GBOS and ICF International. 


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