Marriage Decision-Making: A family affair - Insight into marriage decision-making processes and social norms around child marriage in Larkana and Shikarpur in Sindh and Lodhran and Muzaffargarh in Punjab, Pakistan

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This report presents the findings of research conducted to support the work of the Marriage, No Child's Play programme. The programme aims to change social norms that perpetuate the practices of early and forced marriage. It currently operates in four districts of Pakistan: Larkana and Shikarpur in Sindh, and Lodhran and Muzaffargarh in South Punjab. To increase understanding of the role that social norms currently play in these communities, Oxfam and partners conducted exploratory qualitative research in each of the four districts. 

Drawing on in-depth interviews with respondents, the report puts forward social norms the researchers believe are central to the marriage decision-making process in the four districts. It highlights potential opportunities to open up conversations and outlines ways for the programme to respond. 

A key aim of the Marriage, No Child’s Play programme is to change social norms that perpetuate early and forced marriage practices. To increase understanding of the role that social norms currently play in the communities where the Marriage, No Child’s Play programme operates, Oxfam and partners conducted exploratory qualitative research, which will provide a basis for programme implementation and follow-up research. The research consisted of in-depth interviews with 40 respondents: young and married men (n=10) and women (n=10), and mothers (n=10) and fathers (n=10). They were sampled from communities in the four districts of the Marriage No Child’s Play’s programme in Pakistan: Larkana and Shikarpur in Sindh, and Lodhran and Muzaffargarh in South Punjab. Partner staff supported the field research team in selecting respondents. The interview design combined the use of questions with a vignette – a hypothetical story related to early marriage. Oxfam and partners analysed and interpreted the results in a workshop.

The research found four social norms that are important in marriage decision-making processes:

  • Respectable mothers leave the formal marriage decision-making to men but take responsibility for ensuring that a suitable proposal is accepted.
  • Respectable girls agree to the marriage decisions taken by their parents.
  • Marriageable girls need to be able to contribute to their husband’s household in moral, intellectual and practical ways, including household chores and satisfying her husband’s urges.
  • Respectable girls are married as soon as they are mature, to protect the family honour.

In terms of relevance to Marriage, No Child’s Play’s programmatic responses, five conclusions were drawn:

  • There are opportunities to work with mothers as influencers to delay the age of marriage – although not all mothers want to delay marriage. Awareness raising on the adverse effects of early marriage may be a first necessary step.
  • Discussions on the concept of maturity could gradually change the ideas of mothers and fathers on the capabilities girls need to enter married life.
  • Empowering youth may help, as there is a small opening for young people to delay their marriage, but they often are not able to voice their needs.
  • Education can be an important protective factor to delay early marriage – but there needs to be more emphasis on safe and affordable secondary education and showing the potential financial benefit of an educated girl to the family.
  • In all programme activities we need to be respectful towards the notion of family honour, which underlies the social norms that perpetuate early marriage.

This paper presents the results of the research. Chapter 2 gives an overview of the methodological approach. Chapter 3 highlights the findings: the contextual background of respondents, the reference group involved in marriage decision-making practices, and the social norms around early marriage and marriage decision making. Chapter 4 draws conclusions and outlines the Marriage, No Child’s Play’s programme’s response.