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People and local institutions addressing links between adolescent sexuality and child marriage

This section uses insights from girls and practitioners working on the local level to explore who is influential and should be included in community engagement when designing and implementing interventions that address the link between sexuality and child marriage. Social norms are shared standards and expectations that inform the link between child marriage and girls’ sexuality. These common understandings guide how community members should behave. Many community members and local institutions—such as girls, parents, traditional leaders, religious leaders, schoolteachers, health workers, community committees and self-help groups—are knowledgeable about and influential over said norms.

There are many influencers that programmes can engage, learn from, and mobilise for impactful and sustainable ways to address the links between adolescent sexuality and child marriage. The identification of ‘who’ is knowledgeable about such norms describes gatekeepers—actors who control what people understand to be correct—and other influencers—those who can use their authority, knowledge, position or relationships to affect the actual behaviour of others.

Influencers vary in their contributions to the topic and social processes. For example, sometimes influencers act as allies who support change, while other times they may stand in opposition or provide backlash. Some influencers affect others’ behaviours directly through exercising formal power (e.g., a local government officer or chief), while others deploy informal power (e.g., girls, adolescents, and self-help groups).

Below, the More Than Brides Alliance (MTBA) Learning Project presents a selection of influencers considered relevant across country contexts (but is by no means meant to be exhaustive or universal):

Adolescent boys
In some cases, a brother can be more possessive and protective over their sister (even an older sister) than parents. A brother’s feeling of responsibility can restrict his sister’s movement and limit her free choices. Additionally, adolescent boys and young men can be the primary offending group through “eve-teasing” – a form of unwanted attention and harassment. If influenced away from patriarchal norms and stereotypes, boys are well-positioned to influence change at the household and community levels.

Adolescent girls
Girls who are at risk of child marriage, who have experienced early or forced marriages, or who managed to avoid or escape marriage, have valuable first-hand information on their situation. Therefore, they are the best positioned to present this knowledge. Furthermore, girls who attend school or have completed their education and joined the workforce can positively influence others to overcome harmful social norms. Girls are powerful change-makers when adequately supported and given active roles or promoted as change champions.

Community child protection workers
Given their role in strengthening the child protection system, these workers have important information regarding child marriage, which they can share in order to be part of shaping the solution.

Community leaders, clan leaders, elders, and other notable figures
These leaders and officials are crucial given that they know and deeply understand their culture and its norms. At the local level, this group often presides over the traditional justice system (customary law) and is key to dealing with issues such as child marriage. Chiefs or village heads, for example, are widely considered custodians of culture and are key when it comes to sharing and addressing community concerns. These influencers are not only gatekeepers, but they are crucial for making change happen due to their authority.

District level government departments
This group is influential due to their policy-making function and their ability to allocate budgets.

Drama teams and radio broadcasts
Community actors and radio programmes can use their craft and communication mechanisms to advocate on behalf of child marriage issues in their shows. They know about the issues and can wield influence this way.

Forums for girls and girls’ rights
In some contexts where girls are collectivised, they can advocate for themselves. This makes them important influencers to engage when it comes to advocating on behalf of themselves and their peers.

Parents and guardians
Parents that invest in their daughters’ education, and support them in their choices and dreams for delayed marriage, can also influence parents who have not put their daughters in school. In other words, parents are useful to engage when influencing other parents. Even more importantly, parents are the ones that encourage their children and provide knowledge for life, meaning they are knowledgeable when it comes to issues affecting children.

Religious and pastoral leaders
The sheer fact that 80% of the world’s population holds a religious belief makes this group influential. Religious leaders are typically respected and powerful, and therefore, people listen to them and take their advice seriously. Religious leaders are considered by many to be central in providing community members direction in terms of how they should think and approach societal issues. As such, these influencers can make (by accepting) or break (by rejecting) programmatic efforts for change. Given religious and pastoral leaders’ wide reach in their communities, in some cases, they are linking agents who can bring together different voices and perspectives.

School teachers
By spending a great deal of time with girls and adolescents, teachers know what drives their students. They are in tune with what they want, need, and dream about. Their knowledge and insight can make them important influencers.

Village development committee members
These committees are central to governance issues at the community level. By taking duty bearers to task, and representing community members on developmental issues, they can have knowledge and influence over the linkage between sexuality and child marriage.

How to engage influencers in programmes

Girls and local level practitioners identified the multiple community members and institutions outlined above as influencers. Each belongs to different layers of influence that energize and steer how linkages between sexuality and child marriage will eventually play out in a girl’s life. These layers include:

  • The personal—a girl’s own personality, knowledge, and beliefs
  • Factors in her immediate environment—including the expectations of parents and family members
  • The beliefs and guidance found in one’s community environment, such as religious institutions, schools, and community committees
  • The broader societal landscape—including customary and civil laws and policies.

When taking into account the multiple layers and influencers, the result is multi-stakeholder programmatic designs and interventions that use a holistic or systems approach to address the links between sexuality and child marriage.

Interested in learning more? Explore below for more detailed knowledge products and recommendations regarding how to engage different actors in programme design and implementation.