How International is International: A Study on International Marriage Migration in Asia

  • First Online: 01 January 2014

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international marriage essay

  • AKM Ahsan Ullah PhD 3  

Part of the book series: International Perspectives on Migration ((IPMI,volume 10))

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Marriage is an ever-evolving institution for human beings. Migration for the purpose of marriage has increased in volume in the last two decades in Asia, partly due to the forces of neoliberalism. The growth of international marriage migration (IMM) has affected significantly the traditional practices associated with marital unions. Evidence suggests that IMM has emerged in different patterns in different parts of the world. Southeast Asia (SEA) and East Asia (EA) are both examples of a unique pattern of IMM emerging. However, as an attempt to counter feminist discourses that have largely positioned marriage migration as exploitative, this chapter examines drivers of such patterns from women’s perspectives. This paper argues that the context-specific patterns of marriage migration may offer women empowering opportunities, rather than marriage migration being always inherently exploitative. At the same time, it acknowledges the exploitative factors that can define these relationships. Based on data collected from 33 couples, this paper addresses the motives of the women of SEA and East Asia in choosing international marriage migration, demonstrating both their agency and structural oppression.

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About this chapter

Ullah, A. (2014). How International is International: A Study on International Marriage Migration in Asia. In: Zhang, J., Duncan, H. (eds) Migration in China and Asia. International Perspectives on Migration, vol 10. Springer, Dordrecht.

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Published : 09 April 2014

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I planned an international trip without my husband. I couldn’t believe how people reacted

 Nicoletta in Greece

For nearly a decade, I racked my brain on what a solo trip would look like for me: Perhaps I’d visit the palaces in Rajasthan, India, or climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

I dreamed of dining at a table alone in Europe and sipping on a glass of wine while people watching, a la Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City.” I imagined myself, an extrovert , having no social safety net in a foreign country. I wondered what it would feel like to board a plane and know that when I landed, no one dictated my time.

But cost, limited PTO and other responsibilities always resulted in: “Maybe I'll find out next year.” 

Fast forward to November 2023, and the obstacles that had been in my way now seemed like mere speed bumps: I had saved up money, mapped out my PTO and had no big events for the next few months. Plus, it became as clear as the Aegean Sea (hint, hint) where I should go: Athens, Greece. 

I’m Greek on my mother’s side, a cultural identity that has played a key role in my adult life. For years, I'd yearned to connect with any distant relatives we had in Greece, but asking my mom, aunt, cousins — practically anyone I could think of — led to dead ends. At one point, it seemed more likely that I was going to meet Zeus himself. 

Then, I got lucky: One day my mom remembered a letter a Greek cousin had sent her back in the 1990s. Decades later, she found it for me, and I was able to track down her cousin's two sons on LinkedIn. This was a couple years before my solo journey to Greece, but my newfound family members and I made hypothetical plans to meet up one day. Now, the time had come.

I finally took my wheels off the ground and booked my first-ever solo trip to Athens for March 2024, just four months ahead. 

Nicoletta drinking a juice in greece

My husband of almost three years, partner of nearly 14, knows my adventurous spirit well (he even promised to fuel it in our vows!) and was elated to see me elated. I extended an invitation for him to join after — yes, after — I booked my flight, but with work, our dog and my plans to see family I’ve never met before all taken into consideration, he politely declined. All he requested was for me to get him a Greek evil eye bracelet, called a mati, in exchange for extra pet-parent duty. 

I kept my solo trip hush-hush from mostly everyone until a few weeks out from my departure. (Ironically enough, when you talk about wanting to do a solo trip, others ask if they can come with you, and I wanted to avoid the awkwardness of telling them no.) Eventually I started telling others — and reminding myself — of the longtime wish I was about to fulfill. 

Then, unexpected turbulence hit. The most common response I got from people wasn’t in the form of excitement or curiosity, as I expected, but rather: “Your husband isn’t coming with you?” 

At first, I was surprised. I was traveling to a city I had visited a few years before, and I was familiar with the area I was staying in. Plus, even though they spoke English there, I knew a bit of Greek to get by, if need be.

I got this exact reaction not once, but several times. Over and over again, people were stunned to learn I was taking an international trip without my husband by my side. When I told some of my family and friends about my plans, they responded with wide eyes, screaming, “Why?” 

Nicoletta in front of Greece ruins

Not everyone responded that way, to be clear. And also: I don’t fully blame those who did. Solo travel has only started to gain popularity in the last decade or so , and just recently, there’s been a notable surge in coupled-up folks traveling without their partner . This isn’t specific to those early on in their relationships, either: The Wall Street Journal reported in January that the largest increase in solo travelers is among retired couples, which gives me hope that the stigma around women traveling alone is changing for future generations to come. 

Social media has undoubtedly helped break stereotypes around solo traveling as a woman. On TikTok, the hashtag #solotravel has accumulated over 900,000 posts to date, filled with tips for first-time solo travelers, where to travel and places that are best to avoid (especially helpful for people of color), and vlogs that gives users a glimpse at what their trip could look like. 

When I first booked my flight and accommodations, I used TikTok to crowdsource what other solo travelers did in Athens. But over time, I started cataloging my own feelings ahead of taking my flight of faith — including my candid feedback to responses I received as a married woman traveling alone to Greece. 

I truly believe that some reactions to my solo trip come from a place of genuine concern, but others felt judgmental. I respect couples who share every experience with each other, but that’s just not how my marriage functions.

My husband and I have both our own and shared interests; we enjoy spending time together and on our own; and, speaking on behalf of both of us, we are two individuals who choose to be together not out of need, but out of want. 

I respect couples who share every experience with each other, but that’s just not how my marriage functions.

As I say in my TikTok video, "We have an amazing marriage, we trust each other, we do our own thing, we do a lot together, and I just find those comments funny because I would be going on my own if I wasn't married. Why does being married always make a difference?"

glass of wine in front of Greece ruins

And so, I went on my five-day solo excursion to Athens, without a care of what others thought. I chose where I went, when I napped, when I ate. I got tipsy while I dined by myself and gazed at the Parthenon. I met other women, many married, who were veteran solo travelers. I got to know my distant relatives over a three-hour dinner of pastitsio, octopus and lamb. And of course, I thoughtfully picked out a mati to bring home to my husband. 

When I got home, I gifted him the bright blue evil eye attached to a black rope, which intentionally matched my own. He cracked a smile as he pulled it over his hand, and we tightened the ends to fit his wrist. Sometimes, I hold mine out near his, imagining the bracelets have some superpower when joined together. And then I remind myself that they do.

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Home — Essay Samples — Social Issues — Cultural Diversity — The Shortcomings Of Cross-Cultural Marriages


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12 Frequent Questions About Our International Marriage

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international marriage essay

I have been known to speak in tongues on occasion. At least, that’s what it sounds like to friends and coworkers when I am on the phone with Corina. The two of us speak exclusively in her native tongue, Romanian.

Over the years, we’ve been asked questions about living in an intercultural, international marriage. I thought it would be fun to answer some of the most frequent questions we get asked.

international marriage essay

1. What language do you speak at home?

Corina and I speak Romanian at home, unless we have English-speakers visiting. Then, we speak English to each other (so our guests won’t think we’re talking about them!). Corina is as fluent in English as I am in Romanian, so shifting back and forth between languages is not a problem.

At times in our marriage, we’ve tried to speak in English when it’s just the two of us, but we find it to be cumbersome and unnatural. Take note: the language you date and marry in is the language you’ll likely stick with!

2. Where did you get married?

Corina and I were married at Emanuel Baptist Church in Oradea, Romania in December 2002. The ceremony began, in traditional Romanian fashion, with me and my family leaving my apartment to go to meet Corina and her family at hers. After taking pictures, we started the ceremony at 4:00 in the afternoon, finished around 6:00, and then had a four-course meal that lasted well into the night. Our wedding ended around 12:30 a.m. (Here’s the whole 8 hour event squeezed into an 8 minute video .)

3. Did Corina immediately become a U. S. citizen when you were married?

No. We had to apply for permanent resident status and prove our relationship was genuine. We lived in Romania for the first three years of our marriage, so we were not in a hurry. Corina’s “green card” was granted in 2003 and was set to expire in 2015, so earlier this year, Corina applied for citizenship. She became a U. S. citizen in April. We recently applied for her passport.

4. Are your kids bilingual?

Yes, but because they speak English among themselves and learn English in school, their English is much better than their Romanian. They understand 70-80% of whatever is said in Romanian, but their default is English. When we ask them a question in Romanian, they answer in English. When Corina’s mother is visiting, the kids talk to her in Romanian because they know she doesn’t speak English. They can translate back and forth when necessary.

A similar question is: What name do you call your kids at home, their Romanian or English names? For Timothy, we go by the Romanian –  Timotei –  and the nickname, Timo. For Julia, we go by the English, not the Romanian  Iulia.  David’s name is spelled the same, but the pronunciation is different. I think the English pronunciation is winning for him right now!

5. What language is Romanian similar to?

Romanian is the closest language to Latin still spoken today, which means it is similar to Italian, Spanish, and other Romance languages. Because of its location and history, there is also a Slavic element to Romanian. For this reason, there are often both Slavic and Latin versions of different words, with different connotations for each.

An example: “salvation” can be translated into Romanian via the Latin (“salvare”) or via the Slavic (“mântuire”). The Slavic version is used primarily for “saved” in the spiritual sense, while the Latin version is closer to “rescue” in connotation, and can be used in either spiritual or non-spiritual terms.

6. What cultural difficulties do you encounter in an intercultural marriage?

Every marriage is intercultural. The process of leaving and cleaving is the creation of a new family unit from two extended families, a union that brings different cultural expectations to the relationship. The normal tensions may be heightened in an international marriage, but we face many of the same issues any other couple faces. I think it helps that both of us have firsthand experience of each other’s culture and customs.

Sometimes, it’s about getting accustomed to little differences, like writing checks or using credit cards here in the States vs. using cash in Romania. Making friends is harder. Some people are excited to befriend an internationally married couple; others are less so.

The greatest challenge is the geographical distance from family members. The first three years of our marriage were spent in Romania, where we (and our son) were on the other side of the world from my family. Now, the situation is reversed, with Corina and I on the other side of the world from her family. Corina’s parents have received visas to visit the States, but the U.S. embassy has not allowed her brothers to visit us.

8. How often do you visit Romania?

Not often. As our family expands, it gets more difficult and costly to make the trek to Romania. Corina’s parents visited the States for extended periods before her father grew ill. Our last trip to Romania as a family was in 2009. Since then, Corina and our daughter have visited, and both Corina and I were there in 2013 to be with her father in his last days. Corina’s mother spent several months with us last year, as we welcomed our youngest son into the world.

9. Are you ever homesick for Romania?

When we were first married, we always felt a sense of separation, either because we were in Romania (and far from my home) or in the United States (and far from hers). Since we’ve had children, however, that homesickness has become less pronounced. It’s a continual ache for family and relationships, but we feel “at home” wherever we are with our family.

Getting updates and seeing pictures and videos on Facebook is excellent when it comes to staying in touch with overseas extended family and friends. We are thankful for Skype.

10. Does your family eat Romanian or American food?

Romanian food is not that different from American food, but like every country, there are some staples of the Romanian diet. We eat the best menus from both countries.

Because I spent so much time in Romania, I developed a taste for Romanian dishes, and Corina continues to cook them for our family. Her  schnitzel  and mashed potatoes are out of this world, as are her cabbage rolls ( sarmale ). She also makes a number of soups: one of our favorites is broth-based, and her  ciorba de perișoare  is to die for. Corina has found some stores that stock bread similar to what we find in Romania, and jarred zacuscă.  We also love American food, of course; so we’ll try anything.

11. Are there any Romanian traditions you keep as a family?

At Easter, Corina and the kids will paint and decorate boiled eggs. Then, we do the traditional egg crunching with “ Cristos a înviat!”  (Christ has risen!) and  Adevărat a înviat  (He has risen indeed!). We also observe the “Easter season” much like our Romanian brothers and sisters who continue to celebrate in the weeks between Easter and Pentecost.

Speaking of Pentecost, we miss the celebration of this holiday more than any other. I didn’t know what we were missing until we enjoyed Pentecost traditions in Romania. Since we’ve been back in the States, the absence of this holiday in evangelical circles is felt.

12. Are there any books you recommend on international marriage?

Yes. Your Intercultural Marriage:A Guide to a Healthy, Happy Relationship   by Marla Alupoaicei is worth reading.   See my review here.

Trevin Wax is vice president of research and resource development at the North American Mission Board and a visiting professor at Cedarville University. A former missionary to Romania, Trevin is a regular columnist at The Gospel Coalition and has contributed to The Washington Post , Religion News Service , World , and Christianity Today . He has taught courses on mission and ministry at Wheaton College and has lectured on Christianity and culture at Oxford University. He is a founding editor of The Gospel Project, has served as publisher for the Christian Standard Bible, and is currently a fellow for The Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics. He is the author of multiple books, including The Thrill of Orthodoxy , The Multi-Directional Leader , Rethink Your Self , This Is Our Time , and Gospel Centered Teaching . His podcast is Reconstructing Faith . He and his wife, Corina, have three children. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook , or receive his columns via email .

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  • Research article
  • Open access
  • Published: 14 December 2020

Early marriage and women’s empowerment: the case of child-brides in Amhara National Regional State, Ethiopia

  • Mikyas Abera 1 ,
  • Ansha Nega 2 ,
  • Yifokire Tefera 2 &
  • Abebaw Addis Gelagay 3  

BMC International Health and Human Rights volume  20 , Article number:  30 ( 2020 ) Cite this article

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Women, especially those who marry as children, experience various forms and degrees of exclusion and discrimination. Early marriage is a harmful traditional practice that continues to affect millions around the world. Though it has declined over the years, it is still pervasive in developing countries. In Ethiopia, Amhara National Regional State (or alternatively Amhara region) hosts the largest share of child-brides in the country. This study aimed at assessing the effects of early marriage on its survivors’ life conditions – specifically, empowerment and household decision-making – in western Amhara.

This study employed community-based cross-sectional study design. It adopted mixed method approach – survey, in-depth interview and focus group discussion (FGD) – to collect, analyse and interpret data on early marriage and its effects on household decision-making processes. The survey covered 1278 randomly selected respondents, and 14FGDs and 6 in-depth interviews were conducted. Statistical procedures – frequency distribution, Chi-square, logistic regression – were used to test, compare and establish associations between survey results on women empowerment for two groups of married women based on age at first marriage i.e., below 18 and at/after 18. Narratives and analytical descriptions were integrated to substantiate and/or explain observed quantitative results, or generate contextual themes.

This study reported that women married at/after 18 were more involved in household decision-making processes than child-brides. Child-brides were more likely to experience various forms of spousal abuse and violence in married life. The study results illustrated how individual-level changes, mainly driven by age at first marriage, interplay with structural factors to define the changing status and roles of married women in the household and community.

Age at first marriage significantly affected empowerment at household level, and women benefited significantly from delaying marriage. Increase in age did not automatically and unilaterally empowered women in marriage, however, since age entails a cultural definition of one’s position in society and its institutions. We recommend further research to focus on the nexus between the household and the social-structural forms that manifest at individual and community levels, and draw insights to promote women’s wellbeing and emancipation.

Peer Review reports

Early marriage is any marriage entered into before one reaches the legal age of 18 [ 1 , 2 , 3 ]. Though both boys and girls could marry early, the norm in many countries around the world is that more girls than boys marry young and someone older [ 3 ]. In Mauritania and Nigeria, for instance, “more than half of married girls aged 15-19 have husbands who are 10 or more years older than they are” [ 3 ].

Resilient and interlinked socioeconomic and normative factors (e.g. poverty, illiteracy, traditionalism, patriarchy, etc.) undermine women’s status, capabilities and choices, and ensure early marriage continues unabated in many developing countries [ 4 ]. As a harmful traditional practice, though it is more common in developing than developed countries, there are substantial variations between and within regions of the world and countries [ 3 , 5 , 6 , 7 ]. For instance, half of the world’s child-brides live in South Asia; and, while early marriage is still most common in Sub-Saharan Africa, between them, these two regions host the 10 countries with the highest rates of early marriage [ 3 , 5 , 8 ].

By early 2000s, 59% of Ethiopian girls were marrying before 18 [ 9 ]. Footnote 1 As in the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, early marriage in Ethiopia is gendered with only 9% of men aged 25–49 been married by 18 [ 10 , 11 ]. Its effects are diverse and wide-ranging [ 3 , 4 ]. In its onset, early marriage effectively ends childhood by limiting its victims’ opportunities for schooling, skills acquisition, personal development and even mobility. It also increases the risks of early onset of sex, adolescent pregnancy and childbearing, etc. [ 12 , 13 ] whose negative outcomes are amplified by girls’ undeveloped physique and lack of or inadequate knowledge on healthy sexual and reproductive behaviours. Cumulatively, these effects of early marriage undermine girls’ and young women’s health, psychosocial wellbeing and overall quality of life [ 14 , 15 , 16 ].

Early marriage is not only a serious public health issue. It also exacerbates domestic violence [ 17 ] and undermines women’s status and decision-making powers [ 18 , 19 ]. It increases women’s risk of intimate partner sexual violence, for it is built on spousal age gap, power imbalance, social isolation and lack of female autonomy. Globally, some 30% of girls (aged 15–19) experience violence by partners [ 20 ]. Bangladeshi women married during their adolescence, for instance, are subject to increased domestic violence and loss of autonomy, which, nonetheless, improved with their educational attainment [ 21 ]. Child-brides, specifically, are twice as likely as adult-brides to experience domestic violence [ 22 ]. This is partly because child-brides are more likely to be uneducated, poor and adherents to traditional gender norms [ 3 , 23 , 24 , 25 , 26 ].

Child-brides are mostly isolated with restricted mobility and limited opportunities for independent living. Those who had been going to school would be coerced to discontinue when they marry, and those who have not been to school, the hope to do so dies on their wedding day. In Tach-Gaynt Woreda of Amhara region, for instance, 69% of young women marry early. Between 2009 and 2014, females represented 61% primary school dropouts in the Woreda; and, 34% of female school dropouts mentioned early marriage as the main reason. If child-brides want to start/continue schooling, a rare approval must come from husbands and/or families. In rural communities of Ethiopia, including Amhara region, the ‘good wife’ is primarily pictured in terms of what she accomplishes at home and for the husband, children and the elderly in the family and kinship.

Against the backdrop of mounting calls for legal and policy changes, Ethiopia introduced provisions [ 10 ] to redress gender inequalities and discrimination in its most recent Constitution (1995; Article 35:3) [ 27 ]; it has also revised its Family (2000) and Penal (2005) Codes to, among other things, raise the age of legal consent for women to 18 (from 15). Ethiopia’s latest Education and Training Policy [ 28 ] introduced provisions to reorient societal attitude towards and valuation of women in education, training and development. More profoundly, and partly due to international pressure, in 2013, Ethiopia spelled out its commitment to eradicate early marriage by 2025 in the National Strategy and Action Plan on Harmful Traditional Practices against Women [ 29 ]. These and other relevant documents informed governmental and nongovernmental interventions to remove barriers, including early marriage, to young women’s personal advancement and empowerment, and taking effect at individual, institutional, national and cultural levels.

Accordingly, age at first marriage has been increasing over the years in Ethiopia [ 9 ]; nonetheless, its reported scale and rate are suspect for two main reasons. First, the Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey (EDHS) defines age at first marriage as the age at which partners begin living together under one roof [ 29 ], despite the fact that many early marriages in Ethiopia allow spouses to start living together only a few years later as in the cases of promissory or child marriages [ 4 ]. Second, systematic underreporting or omission is a high possibility, which would lower the magnitude of early marriage among girls than boys as the latter commonly delay marriage. Criminal prosecution under the Revised Family Code (Article 7) could also induce underreporting or deliberate omission of early marriages.

Though there needs to be caution in interpreting statistics on early marriage in Ethiopia, it has been amply documented that Ethiopian women’s low social status explains their limited rights and odds to assume duties, roles and authority on equal terms as their male counterparts [ 9 , 30 ]. Early marriage, one manifestation of this violence, is intimately linked with gender, poverty and illiteracy in rural Ethiopia [ 30 ]. Rural women tend to marry younger than those in urban areas, while patriarchy and the feminization of poverty, illiteracy and low educational attainment play crucial role in perpetuating the imbalance [ 9 , 30 ].

There are studies that document strong association between early marriage and poverty. UNICEF reports that one in three girls in low- to middle-income countries will marry before 18 [ 3 , 31 ]. Nonetheless, though many see a strong link between poverty and early marriage, the correlation is never monotonic. Family riches are not guarantee to avoid early marriage. With growing population and land shortages, girls from better-off families who stand to inherit valuable resources have become easy targets for sustained solicitations by those who desire to ‘marry-into’ wealth. Conversely, poor families generally resort to early marriage as a strategy to reduce economic vulnerability. In both scenarios, however, early marriage is seen as a mechanism to strengthen ties between families, evade the risk of daughters engage in premarital sex (and lose their virginity and/or become pregnant) or pass the culturally defined ‘desirable age’ for marriage (and become unmarriable).

The sociocultural consequences of becoming pregnant outside wedlock are harsh as they go against deep-rooted cultural norms that tie girls’ chastity and sexual purity before marriage to their family honor as well as their marriageability. Most parents fear delaying marriage makes sexual encounters imminent – consented or otherwise – that disgraces the family and tarnishes girls’ reputation and, subsequently, marriage prospects.

Within Ethiopia, girls in some regional states are more likely to marry early; and, Amhara region has the highest prevalence of early marriage with 50% of girls marrying at 15, and 80% marrying at 18 [ 32 , 33 ]. In 2014, 74% of women [ 20 , 21 , 22 , 23 , 24 ] in the region married before 18, significantly higher than the national average of 41% [ 2 ]. To put this in perspective, “a girl born in [Amhara region] is three times as likely as the girl born in Addis Ababa to marry early” [ 3 ].

Reports on improving inter-generational age at first marriage at national level puts the persistently high prevalence of early marriage in Amhara region in a curious light [ 34 ]. In the region, early marriage is deeply entrenched in religious and cultural norms where sex before marriage is a blow to a girl’s marriageability, for her worth lies in her sexual purity, her future role as a devout wife and mother, and her commitment to family honor [ 35 ]. Hence, despite proactive laws, institutional structures and project interventions, early marriage grew adept and continues to affect the lives of many under different guises.

Due to its myriad nature [ 36 , 37 ], on the other hand, eradicating early marriage requires simultaneously addressing its various dimensions and promoting girls’ empowerment through education, institutional support structures and community development programs. Informed by a mixed-methods approach, thus, this study aimed at informing such types of interventions at national and regional levels by identifying its association with women’s empowerment at three Zones (North Gondar, South Gondar and West Gojjam) of Amhara region – the regional State with “one the world’s highest rates of child marriage” (and the highest in Ethiopia) where “most unions take place without girls consent” [ 38 ]. The effects of early marriage go beyond the child-brides and their children, for they severely undermine national and global progress on a variety of Sustainable Development Goals, i.e., Agenda-2030. In light of this, this interdisciplinary study, falls within the current research priority agenda of promoting evidence-based policymaking and interventions [ 39 ] to mitigate early marriage as a resilient sociocultural problem – both from a human rights standpoint and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals targets.

Theoretically, systems theory, with its roots in Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s general systems theory, informs this study [ 40 , 41 , 42 ]. General systems theory argues that all entities – physical, biological, chemical, social, etc. – are complex, structured and dynamic systems, and they constitute sub-systems or units that interact with one another as well as the external environment. His theory advanced remarkably over the years with applications in biology [ 43 , 44 , 45 ], economics [ 46 , 47 , 48 ], psychiatry [ 49 , 50 ] and sociology [ 51 , 52 , 53 , 54 ], among others.

In the field of family studies, systems theory has been used to study family or marriage as an interactional system, whereby patterns in members’ behaviors reflect interdependencies and communications amongst each other and with their normative environment, primarily – rather than their idiosyncrasies. As such, it brings at least two advantages to the current study: firstly, it allows us to understand the norms that structure families, marital relations, individual choices and decisions; secondly, it helps us unravel the tensions between agency and structure i.e., how changes at individual, family and cultural levels feed on each other to make family or marriage a dynamic interactional system capable of recalibrating its functions, communications, etc. vis-à-vis subsystems other systems in its sociocultural milieu [ 55 , 56 ].

Using systems theory, hence, this study explores the effects of early marriage on child-brides interactional outcomes of a series of factors, including individuals’ personal convictions, the function of marriage (for instance, marriage in traditional societies is primarily a cultural arrangement that decent groups use to cement desirable alliances), normative definitions of sex, sexuality, etc. In other words, this study will treat early marriage as part of a broader, normative system where decisions or actions cannot be random but aim to create, maintain or re-create a state of equilibrium. Consensus, conflict, abuse or violence in a family, as Stratus puts it, can viewed as, primarily, products of the system than individual pathology [ 55 ]. Factors that perpetuate any of these scenarios in a family are embedded within the very fabric of the culture and norm that structure the family institution and relations among members i.e., individuals cannot randomly opt out of the norms of the system patterns without suffering consequences for their indiscretions or violations.

Description of the study area

The Amhara region is one of the 10 regional states and 2 city administrations that make-up the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Footnote 2 The region has an estimated population of 21.13million, with 90.85% residing in rural areas. Agriculture is the mainstay of residents in rural areas, with tourism, services and commerce creating the majority of jobs for urbanites. In 2013, Net Enrolment Rate at primary level was 93%, with gender parity at 0.95 [ 57 ]. The national adult literacy rate was 41.5% in 2012 [ 58 ].

This study covered 7 administrative districts – five Woredas and two cities – located in three Zones – North Gondar, Footnote 3 South Gondar, West Gojjam – of northwestern Amhara region i.e., Chilga (Code.01), Gondar Zuria (Code.02), Libo-Kemkim (Code.05), Derra (Code.06) and Yèlma-èna-Dénsa (Code.07) Woredas , and cities of Gondar (Code.03) and Bahir Dar (Code.04). These districts are of varying sizes and they are subdivided into Kebeles – smallest administrative unit in the Ethiopian federal structure. The fieldwork was conducted between January and April 2017.

Study population

This study covered all women who had had their first marriage within 10-years prior to the fieldwork, irrespective of their current marital status, in western Amhara region. The 10-years timeline provided a reasonably representative group of married women who would furnish sufficient data to assess changes in the incidence, prevalence and multifaceted effects of early marriage on their life conditions.

Study design

This study employed a mixed method approach involving quantitative and qualitative methods. A cross-sectional study design with descriptive and analytical components enabled a comparative assessment of the effects of early marriage on women’s empowerment in the domestic sphere. Theoretically, system theory informs the discussion, analysis and interpretation of data i.e., by taking into account both individual (e.g., age) and ecological (e.g., cultural value, public policy) factors as they interact and affect actors’ behaviors (in this case, interpersonal interactions and decision-making) at household level.

Methods of the study

Survey, focus group discussions (FGDs) and in-depth interviews generated relevant data on married women. A representative sample of 1278 married women were surveyed to gathered data on the prevalence and outcomes of early marriage in western Amhara region. Qualitative methods – FGD and in-depth interview – were used to assess married women’s experiences, community perceptions and values on (early) marriage, appropriate age of marriage, and impact of early marriage and community change-actors, among others. Critical desk-review of relevant documents generated perspectives and insights to triangulate the results of primary data.

Sample size

Survey sample size was calculated using a single population formula, by assuming the proportion of early marriage in Ethiopia among married women whose age less than 24-years at 41% [ 2 ], with 95% confidence level and 4% margin of error: 581 . But after considering design effect for two-stage cluster sampling (*2) and non-response rate (*10%), the final survey sample size was determined at 1278 (=581*2 + (581*.10)).

To collect qualitative data, 2 types of FGDs were conducted in each of the 7 districts with, on average, 8 discussants: FGD 1 , with child-brides – a mixed length of age at first marriage i.e., 1–5 years and 6–10 years, and their residential place i.e., rural or urban; and, FGD 2 , with representatives of community leaders, elders, law enforcement officers, parents, school directors and governmental and non-governmental organizations working on children and girls. In total, 14 FGDs were conducted.

Sampling procedure

Probability and purposive sampling techniques were used, respectively, for survey, and FGD and in-depth interview. Firstly, 7 districts – 5 Woredas (Chilga, Gondar Zuria, Derra, Libo-Kemkim and Yèlma-èna-Dénsa) and 2 cities (Gondar and Bahir Dar) – of Amhara region were identified, for they host community intervention projects intended to curb early marriage. Secondly, 4 Kebeles from each district were selected and the sampling procedure accounted for differences among districts in their residential pattern (urban vs. rural) and availability of community intervention projects (beneficiaries vs. non-beneficiaries). Specifically, the sampling procedure followed a 3:1 urban: rural ratio for the two cities, and the reverse for the 5 Woredas . Finally, the 1278 survey sample was distributed to each Kebele based on its population size and the number of women in reproductive age (ages, 15-49). Using Kebele residents’ rosters as sampling frame, a random – and proportionate – sample of households were selected for the survey from each Kebele .

Data collection tools and procedure

All data collection tools (enumerator-administered questionnaire, and FGD and in-depth interview guides) were initially designed in English. They were translated into Amharic, and then back to English – forward-and-backward translation – to ensure their validity and consistency. The questionnaire was pilot-tested at Teda Kebele of North Gondar Zone, a Kebele excluded from the survey, to check for its validity, reliability and consistency. The pilot improved the questionnaire’s completeness, appropriateness, conciseness and relevance as well as the feasibility of the fieldwork.

Twenty-eight females were employed as survey enumerators from World Vision–Ethiopia’s roster of data collectors that documents trained, experienced, locally-resourceful youth for possible recruitment as enumerators, interviewers, guides, etc. in research projects. These enumerators and local guides underwent 2-days intensive training on research methods, data collection tools, interviewing skills, etc. including running mock-interview sessions. After the training, they administrated survey questionnaires by travelling from household to household. They, before asking survey questions, were required to explain the objective of the study, requested for informed consent to participate in the study and checked respondents’ profile for eligibility i.e., women married within 10 years during the fieldwork.

Two types of FGDs, 14 in total, were conducted: FGD 1 involved child-brides who were identified and invited by enumerators during the survey; and, discussants for FGD 2 were identified based on their knowledge of the problem of early marriage in the study area and approached via administrative channels. Finally, 6 in-depth interviews were conducted with child-brides, chosen purposively as their experiences vividly illustrate the effects of early marriage on women’s empowerment.

After inquiring about preferences and confirming with participants, FGDs and in-depth interviews were conducted in facilities and spaces convenient to all such as offices of World Vision–Ethiopia, Gender and Legal Affairs, and Youth Centers. These facilities and spaces were assessed beforehand for their cleanliness, calm, safety and accessibility as well as falling outside non-participants’ earshot and possible intrusions. On average, FGDs and in-depth interviews took, respectively, 60 and 40 min to complete. Authors conducted FGDs and interviewed child-brides.

Data management and analysis

For the survey, all filled and returned questionnaires were checked for completeness and consistency of responses. Once survey data collection was finalized, 3 experienced data encoders entered questionnaire data into Epi-Info and later transferred to SPSS [ 20 ] as data-sets for cleaning, organization and analysis. Descriptive and inferential statistics were employed to determine, among others: the prevalence of early marriage; the incidences and magnitude of bad outcomes of early marriage on women’s decision-making; and, community’s perception on early marriage and appropriate age of marriage. Binary logistic regression models were used determine the likely occurrence of different forms of disempowerment in two groups of women i.e., those married before 18 and those married at/after 18. A p -value of 0.05 was used as a cut-off point to determine statistical significance.

Regarding FGDs and in-depth interviews, all sessions, with the consent of participants, were digitally recorded. Audio-files were later transcribed, post-coded and categorized under core thematic areas. Thematic content analysis provided insights into the nature, community perception and drivers of early marriage and changes. Analytical descriptions and quotes from FGDs and in-depth interviews were used to triangulate, contextualize or explain survey results. Narrated texts, graphs and tables were used to present results according to the nature of the information derived.

In quoting directly from FGDs and in-depth interviews, codes were used to refer to the method, source and location (districts). Accordingly, FGD-R01, for instance, refers to an FGD conducted with representatives of relevant stakeholders (i.e., R) in Chilga Woreda of North Gondar Zone (i.e., 01). Similarly, Interview-S07 refers to an interview conducted with child-brides (i.e., S) in Yèlma-èna-Dénsa Woreda of West Gojjam Zone (i.e., 07).

Ethical considerations

Data for this article are taken from a larger study the authors conducted on behalf of E 4 Y Project , a project run by World Vision-Ethiopia and cleared for appropriate ethical standards at national and regional levels. On behalf of the authors, World Vision–Ethiopia supplied official letters to the respective regional and district administration offices and provide support and facilitation as required.

During the fieldwork, study participants and/or parents/legal guardians (when participants were under the age of 18) were informed about the study objectives and the scope of their involvement beforehand. Verbal consent was obtained from participants or parents/guardians prior to commencing survey, interviews or FGDs. Privacy and confidentiality were granted and maintained during the survey, discussions or interviews. Confidentiality of digital recordings and transcribed data were strictly protected and this was explained to all participants. During FGDs and in-depth interviews, special attention was given to when asking sensitive questions based on local contexts. Participants’ concerns and questions were addressed before they provided individual, informed consents. There was no financial incentive offered to study participants. Nonetheless, participants who had to travel from distant Kebeles for study’s purpose were provided with transport allowance.

The preliminary findings of the study were presented and validated in a national validation workshop held at Bahir Dar city (Ethiopia) and in attendance were representatives of the community (including study participants) and relevant governmental and non-governmental organizations working on early marriage. Workshop participants reflected on the process and results of the study. The authors addressed the comments and questions raised during the workshop, and they revised the study report submitted to World Vision-Ethiopia.

The results and findings of the study are organized and presented in two sub-sections: (a) the prevalence of early marriage; and (b) early marriage and household decision-making in Amhara region. Let us start with the prevalence of early marriage and its variation among districts of the region.

The prevalence of early marriage in Amhara region

The survey covered 1278 married-women respondents, while 112 [ 6 ] participants took part in 14 FGDs (interviews). Of the 1278 respondents, 444 (34.7%) were married before the age of 18 Fig.  1 . Nonetheless, as Fig.  2 reports, there was variation in the prevalence rate of early marriage among districts in the study area: Derra (54.5%) and Yèlma-èna-Dénsa (49.7%) Woredas registered the highest, and the cities of Gondar (16.7%) and Bahir Dar (25.1%) the lowest rates of early marriage. With the regional prevalence rate of 32%, the results indicated that urbanization is inversely related to the prevalence rate of early marriage.

figure 1

Prevalence of early marriage in Western Amhara, Ethiopia (Survey, 2017)

Comparatively, early marriage was high among Orthodox Christians (38.8%) and rural residents (40.6%). Regarding schooling, the proportion of child-brides increased from ‘no formal schooling’ (48.3%) to ‘primary level’ (52.6%), before it declined at junior (39.7%) and senior (28%) high-school levels. These results underlined rural residents and primary grades as potent entry points for any effective intervention, for 53% of primary graders and 41% of rural residents ended up marrying before 18.

Respondents’ age at first marriage ranged from 5 to 35 (M = 18.75; SD = 3.44); and, the lowest ages to start living with spouses and make sexual debut among respondents were, respectively, 9 (M = 18.93; SD = 3.25) and 10 (M = 18.80; SD = 3.11).

Among respondents primarily engaged in farming, on the other hand, 67.1% experienced early marriage, which is not unexpected since the prevalence of early marriage is high in rural areas where agriculture is the main employer of labor. Similarly, 39.3% those who produce and sell local alcoholic beverages were married before 18 (Fig. 2 ). These and the results presented above indicate that early marriage has pertinent impacts on and associations with young women’s education, economic development and wellbeing.

figure 2

Prevalence and profile of early marriage in Amhara National Regional State, Ethiopia (Survey, 2017)

Early marriage and household decision-making in Amhara region

In this section, the effects of early marriage on young women’s empowerment at household decision-making processes are presented under five sections: early marriage, marital interactions and dysfunctions; early marriage and spouse abuse; early marriage and household management; early marriage, social interactions and procreation; and early marriage and healthcare.

Early marriage, marital relations and dysfunction

As Table  1 shows, respondents’ current living arrangement with first husband – which, though imperfectly, serves as a proxy to history of family dysfunction – significantly varies by their age at first marriage (χ 2  = 34.296; α = .001). Family dysfunction refers to processes that undermine the intactness of the family institution and members’ ability to procreate, socialize children and support each other in life. These processes include, among others, conflict, abuse, role-strain, apathy, separation, divorce and desertion. In this study, when respondents did not share households with their first husbands at the time of the survey, it was taken to imply some form of family dysfunction i.e., conflict, abuse, separation, divorce, etc. Specifically, while 82.4% of the respondents married at/after 18 were living with their first husbands, only 68.2% of those married before 18 did. In other words, grim by-products of marriage such as separation, divorce, desertion (and possible remarriage) seems to be forced on women who had their first marriage before 18 – the legal age of consent under the Ethiopian Civil Code.

To put it in context, a logit model predicts girls married before 18 are more than twice as likely (= e 0.137 ) as women married at/after 18 not to be with their first husband (Logit: χ 2  = 31.431; α = .001; Wald = 31.388; ß  = .770; Constant = 772 ) . Significantly more respondents married before 18 also dissolved their first marriage and remarried (42 (9.5%)) than those married at/after 18 (21 (2.5%)). Specifically, girls married before 18 are twice as likely as women married at/after 18 to dissolve their first marriage, and either establish a new one or become widow or single (χ 2  = 45.380; α = .001). For FGD participants at Libo Kemkim, these experiences tend to make the lives of child-brides grimmer:

Most of them [child-brides] would not have strong foundation to build their marriage on and end up being divorcees. After divorce, they migrate to urban areas and, due to lack of opportunities for education or employment, become street children or, worse, prostitutes. They are ghastly populating this cruel occupation. Many also migrate to Arab countries as divorce implies loss of livelihood [FGD_R06].

Mostly in rural communities of western Amhara region, underage girls enter into marriage without a personal, informed choice. For marriage generally is the result of the decision of parents and/or close kin, and it is culturally desirable for girls to marry men much older than themselves. But as they drop out of school and become child-mothers, several child-brides resented their husbands, parents and others who brokered and/or enabled the loss of their childhood:

It is a challenge to raise a child and taking care of household chores while still being a child! If I were to give birth now, I will be physically mature to take care of my duties effectively. I would have more time for myself too. I think marrying and giving birth as children have stunted our development … We do not lead a decent living and we do not cloth or clean up well. This is the result of our parents’ decision to marry us early …. [Moreover,] our children did not get the best we could have provided in care and protection. For lack of knowledge, we neglected them and this would not have happened if we married after we matured well enough. We do not clean them as required. Despite all this, we managed to see them grow. We do not want to see them grow repeating what we passed through, though. We want them to go to school, mature physically and mentally, enjoy life before they assume the responsibility of running a household the way we did/do [FGD_S05].

Early marriage and spouse abuse

Higher rates of first marriage dissolution, separation or desertion were not the only outcomes more likely associated with early marriage in the study population. Child-brides who remained married to their first husbands were highly vulnerable to spousal abuse and violence. Chi-square test of association (χ 2  = 11.311; α = .01), for instance, found that child-brides were more likely to experience spousal verbal abuse (46.9%) than women married at/after 18 (36.9%). Specifically, women married at/after 18 are 33% (= e 0.119 ) less likely to experience spousal verbal abuse than child-brides (Logit: χ 2  = 11.247; α = .001; Wald = 11.261; ß  = -.440; Constant = .797 ) . In a patriarchal society where both women and men accept some type of spousal abuse as a normality in marriage, the results show that delaying marriage until or past 18 was associated with small but statistically significant decline in spousal verbal abuse (Table 2 ).

Similarly, compared to those married at/after the legal age of 18, child-brides were also more likely to experience spousal beating (χ 2  = 8.090; α = .01) and non-consensual sex or marital rape (χ 2  = 36.903; α = .001) by their first husbands compared to woman married at/after 18. Specifically, women married at/after 18 were 38% (= e 0.171 ) and 58% (= e 0.145 ) less likely to experience spousal beating (Logit: χ 2  = 7.845; α = .01; Wald = 7.986; ß  = -.483; Constant = .694 ) spousal non-consensual sex (Logit: χ 2  = 35.520; α = .001; Wald = 35.712; ß  = -.866; Constant = .808 ) , respectively, as compared to child-brides.

Early marriage and household management

Child-brides were also more subservient/subordinate to their husbands in the administration of family possession and/or money (χ 2  = 21.428; α = .001). While 45% of child-brides reported the main responsibility to administer family possessions and/or money rested in the husband, less than one-in-three women married at/after 18 reported similar scenarios. Furthermore, the percentage of respondents who share the responsibility of administering family resources with their husbands increased from 51.6 to 65% among those married before and at/after 18 respectively.

Similarly, child-brides’ decision-making roles in major family transactions and activities e.g., buy or sell land, livestock, groceries, children’s clothing, etc. were significantly lower than women married as adults (χ 2  = 33.702; α = .001).

As a norm, Ethiopian women have the responsibility of taking care of family members including children, the elderly, etc. As Table  3 shows, decisions on how and when married women dispense with this role disproportionately involves husbands. Only 14 and 19% of respondents married before and at/after 18, respectively, were the main decision makers on buying groceries (χ 2  = 14.608; α = .01); and, 2 and 3% of those married before and at/after 18, respectively, had made decisions on purchasing children’s clothing (χ 2  = 10.799; α = .02). On a related note, collaborative decision-making on both issues and respondent age-categories improved at the expense of husbands’ share. Nonetheless, married women had better decision-making powers in purchasing groceries (17%) than children’s clothing (3%).

Early marriage, social interactions and procreation

As Table  4 depicts, women married at/after 18 were more likely to visit their families as per their own terms (6.8% vs. 3.2%) or in consultation with their husbands (69.4% vs. 59.9%) than succumbing to husbands’ unilateral decision (10.0% vs. 18.7%) as compared to child-brides (χ 2  = 31.830; α = .001). But, for both group of women, the decision to visit families is more likely to be shared than unilateral – save for some variation for husband’s share.

The (non) use of contraceptives is another indicator of women’s decision-making power at household level, and the results in Table 4 underline that husbands retained disproportionate power in deciding whether or not wives will use contraceptives (χ 2  = 17.781; α = .001) or when they can have a child (χ 2  = 21.231; α = .001) when wives’ age at first marriage was below 18. The majority of married women in both groups made shared decisions together with their husbands on both issues; but, percentage differentials between the two groups show that those married at/after 18 negotiated decisions on when to have a child (66.8% vs. 54.8%), or use contraceptives (79.5% vs. 68.6%) more often than child-brides. Note here also that those who marry at/after 18 (84%) are more likely than those who marry before 18 (79%) to have ever used contraceptives.

Early marriage and healthcare

With regard to receiving medical care (Table  5 ), statistically significant difference existed on who made decisions when wives fell ill (χ 2  = 10.734; α = .02): most decisions were shared (55.7%) or made unilaterally by husbands (24.7%). Between the two groups, women married at/after 18 were almost twice as likely as child-brides to decide on their own to seek or receive medical services when they fell ill. On the other hand, there was no statistically significant difference between spouses on who made the decision to seek medical treatment when children were the once who fell ill. Parental decision-making powers did not differ much when it was the child’s, rather than the mother’s, wellbeing at stake.

There is no statistically significant difference on who decides on place of child delivery (Table 5 ) – i.e., whether at home or health stations – (χ 2  = 5.070; α = .17). When it comes to mothers’ availing antenatal care (ANC), nonetheless, women married at/after 18 were more likely to decide together with their husbands (48.7% vs. 44.7%), or on their own (11.4% vs. 9.0%), than accept husbands’ unilateral decision (2.4% vs. 5.4%) as compared to child-brides (χ 2  = 11.573; α = .009). This is, however, assuming both group of women have comparable – availability and accessibility – reproductive health facilities and services, gender-mix of health professionals (husbands prefer women health professionals to deliver their babies), etc.

Similarly, on how decisions on children’s immunization/vaccination were made at household level, there was weak statistical difference between the married women depending on their ages at first marriage. But observed differences show that child-brides were twice more likely to accept husbands’ unilateral decisions (3.8% vs. 2.0%), or less likely to share the role with their husbands (33.8% vs. 39.6%), as compared to women married at/after 18. However, cautious interpretation of this result must take into account the weak statistical association between age at first marriage and decision making on children’s immunization/vaccination (χ 2  = 7.035; α = .071).

Building on the survey results, this section explores further – using narratives and discourses generated through FGDs and in-depth interviews – the main findings on the effects of early marriage on women’s empowerment in western Amhara region. The discussion is embedded within systems theory and follows similar structure of presentation as the results section.

The survey results showed that one-third of married-women in western Amhara region were affected by early marriage; and, they experience various forms of marital and family disorganizations i.e., divorce, separation, martial abuse, etc. They mostly marry older men and soon afterwards drop out of school. Education is generally ‘unthinkable’ for child-brides, FGD participants at Libo Kemkim explain:

The immediate result of early marriage is dropping out of school, if they were [still] in school at the time of marriage. Husbands want their wives to quit schooling [and become stay-at-home wives] too. If child-brides stay in school, they become persistent truants or repeat grades. More than half of them repeat grades. They do not get the necessary support they need to stay in school and be successful. They are also very much depressed and isolated from the school community and their classmates (FGD_R06).

But as child-brides get older, many grew aware of their missed opportunities due to a life imposed on them. While their age-mates be and act as they are supposed to i.e., children, they toil and serve the will of an outmoded tradition. A 16 years old child-bride in Derra Woreda laments,

I loved going to school and did well too …. But when I reached Grade-7, my mother started complaining why I wanted to continue going to school instead of getting married. She used to name girls in my neighbourhood who married younger than I was at the time …. Now, I’m jealous of my former classmates who still go to school and progress through grades …. I sometimes cry alone (Interview_S 1 05).

Child-brides become more and more isolated and restricted to the household as years go by. A child-bride who married at 15 and dropped out of school at 6th grade says, “I don’t see my friends frequently. They visit during weekends, since they have school during weekdays. This makes me sad and angry. Seeing them going to school with books and in uniforms, I feel sad and I want to cry” (Interview_S 2 05).

Child-brides were also more likely to experience early sexual debut and pregnancy – and probably suffer from medical complications. Childbirth effectively ends their childhood as they become child-mothers: “My brothers used to tease me about the way I carried my son around. I did not know how to do it right. But they supported me a lot in raising him” (Interview_S07).

As the survey results revealed, child-brides were more likely to sustain verbal abuse (47%) than martial rape (28%) or beating (16%) by first husbands than adult-brides. These incidents remain mostly unreported to authorities, unless they result in serious injuries – and even these may be kept as a family matter and dealt with discretely. For they are taken for granted aspects of married life or a trait of masculinity as the experience of a child-bride who married a 22-year-old man when she was 15 attests. When asked if her husband ever verbally or physical abused her, she replies, with a dismissive chuckle in her voice, “Isn’t he a man?! Of course, he swears and insults me when things are not in order at home” (Interview_S 2 05).

As patriarchal culture normalizes spouse abuse and violence, men tend to regularly use it to settle disagreements with and/or assert their authority over their wives. Mostly against child-brides, due to age gap, husbands may feel justified, or even required, to use force to ensure conformity to patriarchal norms of marital relations. In fact, survey results underlined the importance of age at first marriage whereby such scenarios are significantly reduced among women married at/after 18 – their delayed marriage gave them the time and maturity to influence the mate selection process and martial relations.

Child-brides, compared to women married at/after 18, were also consistently powerless in making or negotiating decisions with their husbands on important household matters. At best, they shared decision-making powers with their husbands, which, considering their broad definition of ‘shared’ decision-making process, may not tell us much about their real-live experiences. Furthermore, their roles in household decision-making processes varied by the activity under consideration. For instance, they were better involved when the decision is about buying groceries than children’s clothing. This is not contrary to the prevailing patriarchal norms, however, as groceries are ‘must-have’ but children’s clothing could be optional depending on other priorities, and it is on such matters that men retain the authority.

On the other hand, child-brides and adult-brides were not different regarding decisions on when and how often they visited their families. But there is more to the process than what meets the eye; and, it is related to parental approval of the union – from initiation to formation and maintenance – which puts the husband at ease when it comes to his wife visiting her parents/families. In other words, it only implies the husband temporarily transferring the locus of control from his house to her parents’. Furthermore, marriage involves the transference of rights between domestic groups, and there is always a scope for a wife to visit and contribute labour or services to her parents/family in such occasions as childbirth, pre- and post-natal care, weddings, death, etc. Footnote 4 A husband cannot refuse his wife these socially sanctioned visits and roles without risking ridicule and contempt. But he can negotiate the length of her family visit, which exemplifies one of the few contexts where some level of negotiation (and empowering scenario) is built into marriage norms for married women.

The role of child-brides in decisions on conceiving, spacing and number of children, however, paints the usual picture of disempowerment, and it is primarily related to the cultural value that children have in the study community. As a norm, early marriage is actually marriage between families with procreation i.e., generational continuity in its core. In western Amhara, children are also seen as blessings, making the use of contraceptives immoral, sinful and threat to the foundation of traditional marriage. In the eyes of the community, children make a family complete; and oftentimes, contraceptive use is discouraged especially among young brides, which explains why this study found fewer child-brides ever using contraceptives. Hence, if and when husbands resist the use of contraceptives, they have the cultural leverage to back it up. However, those who married at/after 18 were better placed to negotiate the terms as their marriage was most likely shaped by their preference – with varying levels of parental and family involvement, of course.

Child-brides responded to these scenarios differently. Some resigned and accepted their fate, while others, like the child-bride at Bahir Dar city, revolted: “My mother married me off to a 22-years-old man when I was only 10. I moved to his parents’ house. My in-laws were very old and I had to take care of them. I did everything around the house as well …. It was killing me. One morning, I just got up and left, and came to Bahir Dar” (Interview_S04).

Parents and families almost unilaterally and ubiquitously arrange early marriage – and they draw on cultural values to justify their decisive roles. But, with early marriage being illegal, they must proceed discretely not to alert authorities – legal departments, police, the courts, education officers, teachers, etc. – and, primarily, the girl-child herself or her friends. A legal officer at Addis Zemen Woreda (South Gondar) explains:

As people become aware of the legal repercussions, many [parents] are also getting creative to evade the law and marry-off children. Now, they use social events like Mahèber , Zèkèr or birthdays as covers. This has made modern day early marriage practices largely clandestine and illusive. Detecting or reporting it is becoming difficult (FGD_R06).

With ramped-up campaigns against early marriage, girls and young women are becoming self-aware of its illegality of early marriage and their rights to education. Self-assertive girls have learned to evade this yoking institution by refusing their parents’ wishes or, when that does not work, threatening to contact authorities. This explains why many child-brides were kept in the dark about such arrangements, making their first encounter with their husbands-to-be disillusioning: “My father arranged everything. He told me who I will marry and where I will live afterwards. I never knew the person before and the first time I saw him was when we went for medical Footnote 5 …. They said he was 20 at the time but he looked much older to me” (Interview_S 1 05).

Child-brides may accept their parents’ decisions to marry early for various reasons: to fulfil a terminally-ill parents’ wish to see their children forming a family; to escape poverty or help parents benefit from bride-wealth ( tèlosh ); to enable a family forge desirable alliance with a respected family through marriage; etc. But growing older brings opportunities of self-awareness and maturity for most child-brides. Their exposure to the world outside induces changes in their views, attitudes and behaviours – changes that test their resolve to continue respecting parents’ life-changing decisions. Husbands and parents usually treat this change as a sign of moral corruption and respond with corrective measures, abuse or violence. This explains why most child-brides are more prone to various forms of family disorganization, abuse or disempowerment compared to adult-brides.

There is a common thread in these discussions i.e., age. In Ethiopia, as in most other societies, 18 is more than just a number. It is the age of legal emancipation, which comes with the right to decide on one’s own or give independent consent to contractual agreements including marriage. However, most communities in the study area – bar for the two cities of Gondar and Bahir Dar – define girls’ readiness for marriage well below 18 – with stark contradiction to the Family Law. The Law may see the child in a girl below 18. But for people around her, she could be at ‘the right age’ to become, or start her journey to become, a good-wife and/or a good-mother.

As future household heads, on the other hand, boys are allowed to grow older, develop their life-skills, and become experienced and mature. They enjoy greater scope for experimentation and financial independence before venturing to form family. Conversely, since early childhood, girls are taught to regard marriage, family and motherhood as the good-woman’s virtues. As soon as girls’ physical development ‘catch the eye,’ the norm is for her parents to identify a suitable marriage plan. This scenario is intimately related to the gendered socialization of boys and girls in patriarchal societies like Ethiopia. A secondary school principal at Yèlma-èna-Dénsa Woreda concurs:

The [rural] community sees boys and girls differently. It marries girls early as protection from risks [such as rape, abduction or adolescent pregnancy as they traverse great lengths to and from school]. Moreover, parents do not have faith in girls to be successful in education and lead a decent life on their own as boys. They think marriage is the best way for girls to have a fruitful adult life. For boys, parents usual wait for them to reach their potential in education, or learn to stand on their feet. This, however, does not happen for [most] girls (FGD_R07).

Whether parents arrange marriage for their daughters depends on a unique definition of ‘an appropriate mate,’ FGD participants at Chilga Woreda add:

What parents and the community take into account during arranging early marriage [for a girl] is whether the groom-to-be can provide for her. They don’t consider its bad health or other effects in her life …. [As a norm,] Parents [could also agree] to give their daughter’s hands in marriage if they are convinced that a boy [or his family] is economically well and promise to let her continue her education …. But this promise rarely materializes [FGD_R01].

But to ensure a child-bride keeps a good home, she is preferred (i.e., arranged) to marry someone older with the means to provide for her and the cultural wisdom to make important decisions on household and broader matters. The arrangement works well for boys who postpone marriage till they acquire the means to provide for a family and administer its affairs.

Consequently, in a patriarchal arrangement where power lies in the hands of men and the husbands are usually older, child-brides remain structurally fixed to subservient position in their own marriages and houses. With largely ineffective systems to prevent early marriage or ensure child-brides’ safety and rights in an unlawful arrangement, husbands can easily draw on the patriarchal culture to impose their decisions, whereby consulting or involving wives becomes an indulgence they do well without. Even with changes that undermine patriarchal rules on marital relations, as Kolb and Straus argue, “individuals socialized to operate in one system of family organization may have difficulty [in] operating under new standards” [ 59 ].


Informed by systems theory and using a mixed methods approach, this study compared child- and adult-brides in western Amhara region to assess their roles in household decision-making processes. It reported that child-brides are more likely to experience family and marital disorganizations – they had higher rates of both divorce and remarriage. They were also more likely to suffer from various types of abuse and violence while committed to subordinate roles in most household decision-making processes.

Systems theory teaches us that marital relations and household decision-making processes reflect the idiosyncrasies of members, the functional prerequisite of the household unit and the wider cultural milieu. As the study results revealed, women married at latter ages were able to influence household decision-making processes in ways that recognize their preferences and wellbeing. Age is not just a biological factor as it entails cultural definition of one’s scope of involvement and influence in household as well as wider sociocultural, economic and political affairs of the community. The interactions between individual and community factors seem to create better negotiation powers for women married as adults than those married as children.

Using systems theory, the discussion of results underlined the relevance of unravelling the interactions between individual, institutional and community factors to understand and/or change the power dynamics between spouses at household level. Furthermore, its findings imply that sectoral interventions will struggle to bring much-sought after emancipation of women in patriarchal institution and culture and abolish early marriage. The alignment between the study findings and the premises of system theory illustrate why child-brides faced resistance from their husbands, families and communities to be involved in household decision-making processes. There were reports about married women sustaining spousal abuse for wanting to have a say on what happens in the household. There were also women who did not want to do so since that was not how they were brought up and saw husbands’ unilateral decision-making powers as something natural.

In sum, the study results reveal that with increasing age comes physical, social and emotional maturity, and delaying marriage improved married women’s empowerment in household decision-making processes. But this change did not unfold unilaterally and in simple correlation with women’s age at first marriage since it bore the imprints of individual, institutional and cultural factors. There were instances of neglect, resistance or abuse as individuals, institutions and norms adjust to and accommodate women’s preferences and wills in marital relations and household management. We conclude by stating the obvious: if women do not have much decision-making power at the domestic sphere, which is traditionally defined as their domain, how would the gap be in the public sphere, which is traditionally out of their reach or influence? The authors believe this is one of the areas that further research could productively explore.

Following the political unrest of 2018, the North Gondar Zone has been subdivided into three zones with their own administrative structures – North, Central and West zones – in 2019. But this study was conducted in 2017 – before the restructuring – and covered Kebeles in the then North Gondar Zone.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Countries with higher prevalence of early marriage are Niger (82%), Bangladesh (75%), Chad (73%), Yemen (64%), Mali (63%), Nepal (63%), Mozambique (59%) and Ethiopia (57%)

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia had 9 regional states (Tigray, Afar, Amhara, Oromia, Somali, Benishangul-Gumuz, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples, Gambela, and Harari) and 2 city administrations (Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa) until 2020. Currently, the Sidama region had broken-off with SNNP and has been recognized as a separate region, making the number of regional states 10.

Many Africans and Latin Americans practice a tradition for new moms called la cuarentena, a Hispanic word that to refer to a period of approximately 6 weeks, during which new mothers abstain from sex and solely dedicate their time and energy to breastfeeding and taking care of themselves and the baby. Members of the family participate to cook, clean and take care of other children, if there are any. What is different in the Ethiopian case is that pregnant women generally return to their parents’ house and stay there receiving all pre- and post-natal care by their family members. The length of the stay covers a week or days before birth and until the baby is baptized, for Christian folks.

Medical assessment of couples’ health status – mainly HIV/AIDS – is becoming increasingly a requirement to legalize marriage in Ethiopia.


Central Statistical Authority (Ethiopia)

Demographic and Health Survey (Ethiopia)

Engaged, Educated, Empowered Ethiopian Youth

Focus Group Discussion

International Center for Research on Women

Ministry of Education (Ethiopia)

Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs (Ethiopia)

Standard Deviation

Statistical Package for Social Sciences

Transitional Government of Ethiopia

United Nations Fund for Population (Activities)

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund

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We would like to acknowledge the WV-E for providing the funding for the research based on which this manuscript is developed. Its staff were more than collaborative in providing editorial assistance and logistics support whenever required. We thank survey respondents, FGD participants and in-depth interviewees for taking their time and providing relevant information which enabled us to understand the nature of relations between early marriage and women empowerment in the study area. Last but not least, we are grateful for University of Gondar, where three of us had been working for over a decade at the time of the study, to enable and support our multidisciplinary research team.

We, the authors, would like to express our preference to be searchable through our own individual PubMed records and we include out names, institutional affiliation and country information as follows:

• Mikyas Abera, PhD. Assistant Professor, University of Gondar, Ethiopia

• Ansha Nega, Mrs. Assistant Professor, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

• Yifokire Tefera, Mr. Assistant Professor, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

• Abebaw Addis Gelagay, Mr. Assistant Professor, University of Gondar, Ethiopia

Funding for the research was provided by World Vision Ethiopia, whose staff provided editorial and logistics support during the data collection, analyses and write-up phases.

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Department of Sociology, University of Gondar, Gondar, Ethiopia

Mikyas Abera

School of Public Health, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Ansha Nega & Yifokire Tefera

Institute of Public Health, University of Gondar, Gondar, Ethiopia

Abebaw Addis Gelagay

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MAN. MAN’s contributions to this manuscript involve collaboratively designing, conducting and coordinating the field research; checking for quality survey data entry; transcribing qualitative data; generate themes from qualitative data; running statistical analyses on SPSS and interpreting results; producing the first draft of this manuscript for comment and refinement by research team members. AN. AN’s contributions to this manuscript involve collaboratively designing and conducting the field research; transcribing qualitative data; running statistical analyses and interpreting results; and, enriching the first draft of the manuscript immensely with descriptive and illustrative additions. YT. YT’s contributions to this manuscript involve collaboratively designing and conducting the field research; transcribing qualitative data; running statistical analyses and interpreting results; and, enriching the first draft of the manuscript immensely with descriptive and illustrative additions. AAG. AAG’s contributions to this manuscript involve collaboratively designing and conducting the field research; transcribing qualitative data; running statistical analyses and interpreting results; and, enriching the first draft of the manuscript immensely with descriptive and illustrative additions as well as editorials. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.

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1. Mikyas Abera . Dr. Mikyas Abera, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at the University of Gondar (UoG), Gondar (Ethiopia). He studied Sociology and Social Administration (BA; Addis Ababa University: 2003), Sociology (MA; Delhi School of Economics: 2007), and Sociology of Education (PhD; Addis Ababa University: 2015). His research interests are education, gender, rehabilitation, social inequality and science and technology. He helped UoG to launch undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate programs in Sociology between 2003 and 2017. He currently teaches and supervises students both at graduate and postgraduate levels, and engages in several research and community engagement projects.

2. Ansha Nega . Mrs. Nega, MSc, is Assistant Professor of Public Health at School of Public Health, Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia). She studied Occupational Health and Safety (BSc; University of Gondar) and Ergonomics (MSc; Loughborough University). Mrs. Nega worked for more than 13 years at UoG with varied responsibilities including teaching, research and community works. She has served as the Director for Community Based Rehabilitation program at University of Gondar; lead and co-lead various collaborative researches on disability, child labor, occupational safety, rehabilitation, and early marriage, among others. Currently, she is faculty at Addis Ababa University.

3. Yifokire Tefera . Mr. Yifokire Tefera, PhD Candidate at Addis Ababa University and adjunct staff and Assistant Professor of Public Health at UoG. Environmental Health Science (BSc; Jimma University, Ethiopia); Occupational Health and Safety (MSc; Loughborough University, UK). Mr. Tefera has served UoG for over 14 years under different capacities: teaching faculty, researcher, administrator and community worker. He has extensive experience in leading and/or coordinating collaborative international and national research projects. His research and community work interests lie on public health child labor, decent work, disability and development. Currently, Mr. Tefera pursues his PhD in Occupational Health and Safety at AAU, collaborative program between AAU and Bergen University, Norway.

4. Abebaw Addis Gelagay . Mr. Abebaw Addis Gelagay is an Assistant Professor of Reproductive and Child Health at UoG and have been serving University of Gondar since 2014 with roles in teaching, research, management and community work. He studied Nursing (Diploma; Addis Ababa University), Public Health (BSc; UoG), and MPH in Reproductive and Child Health (MPH; UoG). He has extensive experience in leading and/or coordinating collaborative international and national research projects. His research and community work interests lie, mainly, on general, reproductive and child health. Currently, Mr. Addis serves as Chair of Department of Reproductive Health, Institute of Public Health, UoG.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mikyas Abera .

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Ethics approval and consent to participate.

Ethical approval for the research was attained at the level of the E 4 Y (Engaged, Educated, Empowered Ethiopian Youth) project – a project implemented by World Vision–Ethiopia in various regional States of Ethiopia. In addition, the study proposal, tools, funding source, etc. were submitted to and approved by the Institute of Public Health’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) of the University of Gondar, Ethiopia to meet scientific and ethical standards. The IRB cleared the study not to have any health, social, personal harm to participants, their communities and the environment. Study participants as well as parents and/or legal guardians – for those under the legal age of 18 – were requested to provide verbal or signed consent for participation beforehand. The IRB approved oral consent for parents and/or legal guardians as well as participants considering many reside in remote villages with very low literacy level. However, whenever possible, written consent was collected from study participants and such was approved.

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Abera, M., Nega, A., Tefera, Y. et al. Early marriage and women’s empowerment: the case of child-brides in Amhara National Regional State, Ethiopia. BMC Int Health Hum Rights 20 , 30 (2020).

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international marriage essay

Opinion: As conservatives target same-sex marriage, its power is only getting clearer

An LGBTQ+ Pride flag outside the Supreme Court building

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It’s been two years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Dobbs case that overturned the federal right to an abortion, and the troubling concurring opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas in which he expressed a desire to “revisit” other landmark precedents, including the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, codified nationally by the Obergefell Supreme Court decision, nine years ago Wednesday

Since that ruling, the LGBTQ+ and allied community has done much to protect the fundamental freedom to marry — passing the Respect for Marriage Act in Congress in 2022; sharing their stories this year to mark the 20th anniversary of the first state legalization of same-sex marriages, in Massachusetts; and in California , Hawaii and Colorado launching ballot campaigns to repeal dormant but still-on-the-books anti-marriage constitutional amendments.

Boyle Heights, CA - March 05: Brandon Ellerby, right, of Los Angeles, casts his ballot during Super Tuesday primary election at the Boyle Heights Senior Center in Boyle Heights Tuesday, March 5, 2024. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

California Democratic Party endorses ballot measures on same-sex marriage, taxes, rent control

The party’s executive board voted Sunday on which measures they would endorse.

May 19, 2024

This winter, I worked with a team at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law to survey nearly 500 married LGBTQ+ people about their relationships. Respondents included couples from every state in the country; on average they had been together for more than 16 years and married for more than nine years. Sixty-two percent married after the court’s 2015 Obergefell marriage decision, although their relationships started before before that. More than 30% of the couples had children and another 25% wanted children in the future.

One finding that jumped out of the data: Almost 80% of married same-sex couples surveyed said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the Obergefell decision being overturned. Around a quarter of them said they’d taken action to shore up their family’s legal protections — pursuing a second-parent adoption, having children earlier than originally planned or marrying on a faster-than-expected timeline — because of concerns about marriage equality being challenged. One respondent said, “We got engaged the day that the Supreme Court ruled on the Dobbs decision and got married one week after.”

Eddie Daniels, left, and Natalie Novoa get married at the L.A. County Registrar office in Beverly Hills.

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Same-sex marriage ruling creates new constitutional liberty

The Supreme Court’s historic ruling Friday granting gays and lesbians an equal right to marry nationwide puts an exclamation point on a profound shift in law and public attitudes, and creates the most significant and controversial new constitutional liberty in more than a generation.

June 26, 2015

As we examined the survey results, it became clearer than ever why LGBTQ+ families and same-sex couples are fighting so hard to protect marriage access — and the answer is really quite simple: The freedom to marry has been transformative for them. It has not only granted them hundreds of additional rights and responsibilities, but it has also strengthened their bonds in very real ways.

Nearly every person surveyed (93%) said they married for love; three-quarters added that they married for companionship or legal protections. When asked how marriage changed their lives, 83% reported positive changes in their sense of safety and security, and 75% reported positive changes in terms of life satisfaction. “I feel secure in our relationship in a way I never thought would be possible,” one participant told us. “I love being married.”

The evolution of same-sex marriage

I’ve been studying LGBTQ+ people and families for my entire career — and even still, many of the findings of the survey touched and inspired me.

Individual respondents talked about the ways that marriage expanded their personal family networks, granting them (for better and worse!) an additional set of parents, siblings and loved ones. More than 40% relied on each other’s families of origin in times of financial or healthcare crisis, or to help out with childcare. Some told of in-laws who provided financial assistance to buy a house, or cared for them while they were undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

In his dissent in the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage decision, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, seen here in 2011, showed contempt for his colleagues.

Analysis:: Antonin Scalia’s dissent in same-sex marriage ruling even more scornful than usual

The legal world may have become inured to wildly rhetorical opinions by Justice Antonin Scalia, but his dissent in the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision Friday reaches new heights for its expression of utter contempt for the majority of his colleagues.

And then there was the effect on children. Many respondents explained that their marriage has provided security for their children, and dignity and respect for the family unit. Marriage enabled parents to share child-rearing responsibilities — to take turns being the primary earner (and carrying the health insurance), and spending more time at home with the kids.

The big takeaway from this study is that same-sex couples have a lot on the line when it comes to the freedom to marry — and they’re going to do everything possible to ensure that future political shifts don’t interfere with their lives. As couples across the country continue to speak out, share their stories — and in California, head to the ballot box in November to protect their hard-earned freedoms — it’s clear to me that it’s because they believe wholeheartedly, and with good reason, that their lives depend on it.

Abbie E. Goldberg is an affiliated scholar at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law and a psychology professor at Clark University, where she directs the women’s and gender studies.

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Getting married overseas can be time-consuming and expensive. The process is different from country to country, and some need preparation. If you plan to marry in a foreign country, find out the requirements of that country before you travel.

Some of the requirements you might encounter are:

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  • An Affidavit of Eligibility to Marry. Some countries need this as proof of legal ability to enter into a marriage contract. The United States cannot attest to your marital status. However, you can write a statement confirming that you can marry and a U.S. consular officer can notarize your signature on the document. This satisfies most countries.

Contact the embassy or tourist information bureau of the country where you plan to marry. They can tell you about the specific requirements. If you are already abroad, you may wish to consult with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate .

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If you get married abroad, you may need to know if the United States recognizes your marriage. Contact the office of the Attorney General of the state where you live. They can help you and tell you about any documentation you may need to provide.

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Sierra Leone outlaws child marriage, and even witnesses to such weddings will be punished

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FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — A bill that bans child marriage in Sierra Leone has been signed into law, President Julius Maada Bio said late Tuesday, in an effort to protect girls in the West African nation where about a third are married before adulthood .

The law is being celebrated widely. It criminalizes marrying any girl who is under 18 years old. Offenders face up to 15 years in prison or a fine of around $4,000 or both. Witnesses to such marriages will also face jail or a fine.

“I have always believed that the future of Sierra Leone is female,” Bio said on social media platform X. “This and future generations of girls must thrive in Sierra Leone in which they’re protected, equal and empowered.”

Sierra Leone is home to 800,000 child brides, with half of them married before age 15, according to the U.N. children’s agency.

First Lady Fatima Bio was among the key champions of the law that also provides improved access to education and support services for children affected by child marriage.

When it was passed by parliament as a bipartisan bill in June, she called it “a significant step forward in protecting the rights of our next generation.”

international marriage essay

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Ielts essay # 1173 - more people get married to someone of a different culture, ielts writing task 2/ ielts essay:, nowadays more people get married to someone of a different culture than they ever did., why is this happening discuss both benefits and demerits of this trend..

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international marriage essay

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international marriage essay

Advantages and Disadvantages Of International Marriage

When we are married, we often look for similarities between you and your partner. This similarity can be in the realm of background, culture, place of birth, and more. But what if you marry someone from a whole different world?

International marriage is something that is quite common these days. But people don’t quite know what happens in that kind of marriages. Which is why we want to provide you the full information. Here are the common advantages and disadvantages of international marriage.

Reasons Why International Marriage Is A Good Option

International marriage is something that will truly alter your life and it can be altered to a good way. Here are some reasons why you should definitely marry a foreigner;

1. Be More Open Minded

When you are faced with so many adversity, you instantly become more open minded which is what anybody wants.

2. You Can Be More Modern

Being multicultural is definitely not traditional. An international marriage will make each partner more modern.

3. Opening Yourself To New Culture

opening yourself to new culture

To enrich your life, you need to open yourself up to things especially different cultures that will teach you a lot of things.

4. Grow Into A Better Person

Tolerance, open mindedness, and kindness is the traits that will come from an international marriage and help you grow. Actually, this marriage is one of the  Ways to Love Yourself and Be Happy with The World .

5. Being More Tolerant Towards Life

To accept all the different things, you instantly become more tolerant. With this attitude, life will definitely be easier.

6. Your Marriage Will Never Be Boring

With the different culture there is definitely a different and exciting new  How To Tell Someone You Love Them Without Saying I Love You Over Text .

7. You Can Explore More Places

Exploring each other’s hometown is an adventure on it’s own. This is why your life will become more and more rich.

8. You Can Meet New Kinds Of People

Being in a marriage means meeting the people in each other’s life. Meeting new people will clearly make your life more interesting.

9. You Can Complete Each Other With Each Other’s Values

Cultures brings values so you can find that some part of your life will be completed with your partner’s values and the other way around.

10. Your Taste Bud Will Be Challenged

New culture means new food. Who wouldn’t want to explore new tasty food that comes from each culture?

11. Compromising Is Something That Will Come Easily

Because of the difference, both of you will find meaning behind the Reasons Why You Need to Express Your Point of View in A Relationship . In the end, compromising will be easy.

12. You Are Instantly More Patient Towards Each Other

Both of you understand that there is a lot to go through.

13. You Appreciate Each Other More

Despite the difference, you are still together! That is something to be proud of.

There are some advantages and disadvantages of international marriage that you need to understand.

Why International Marriage Is Bad

why international marriage is bad

The idea of international marriage alone means that there will be a lot of work to do and those works can crack your marriage. Here are some proven reasons why international marriage is hard;

1. Not Everyone Is Tolerant

Sadly not everyone is tolerant. The people that is supposed to support you will sometimes be close minded, making it hard to make it.

2. You Will Grow Tired Of Explaining Yourself In Relation To Your Culture

We are affected by our culture and when you plunge into a different culture, people will not understand you. In the end, you will feel drained from all the explaining.

3. You Will Feel Like A Part Of You Is Missing

New culture will sometimes wipe out a part of you.

4. Your Partner Can’t Fully Understand A Big Part Of Who You Are

No matter the love, you will still feel misunderstood.

5. Your Parents Might Disagree With The Marriage

Traditional parents might want someone with a bad background, which makes it hard for the marriage to progress.

6. You Will Be Homesick

All of these new places will make you feel homesick.

Wondering about your man? Let's find out who he really is. From the newly dating to the happily married, trust issues can creep up on anyone. With cheating cases soaring over 40% in the last two decades, it's natural to have your doubts.

Could he be sending flirty texts to another woman? Or secretly swiping on Tinder? Or even have a hidden criminal past? Or, the worst fear - could he be cheating?

This useful tool can bring the truth to light. It'll dig out hidden social media accounts, dating profiles, photos, any legal run-ins, and more. Let us help clear your mind.

7. You Will Be Forced To Accept Values That Is Different From Yours

Different values will come and you will unfortunately be forced to accept it because of the sake of tradition.

8. The Arrangement Of Your Marriage Will Be Complicated

Which culture should the marriage bow down to? This question will make everything complicated. 

9. It Will Cost You A Lot Of Money

The travel and differences surely cost money.

10. Learning Each Other’s Language Will Be Hard

You will find it hard to communicate at times.

11. Holiday Traditions Will Be Blurry

Should you follow your holiday tradition or theirs? This will create a hollowness in your life.

12. You Will Never Be Fully Accepted By The People In Your Partner’s Life

you will never be fully accepted by the people in your partner's life

Acceptance is a myth and with all these differences, it will surely be hard.

Tips On How To Survive An International Marriage

You might be confused right now on where to step your foot. But if you really want to work things out in an international marriage, all you have to do is to do these tips on how to survive an international marriage;

1. Always Remember The Strength Of Your Love

When you hold on to the unconditional love you have, anything is possible. When things go rough, try the Ways to Bring Back Love in A Dying Relationship .

2. Be Patient With Your Progress

Never quit when you hit a trouble because there will be lots of them.

3. Communicate A Lot Even If It Is Hard

Have an honest and open communication.

4. Be Open Minded Towards Any Possibility

Open mindedness is the key to any good relationship.

International marriage is something that is so modern that sometimes we don’t know anything about it. If you are just about to dip your toe into the topic, you need to know the advantages and disadvantages of international marriage first. After that, you can start to apply the tips on how to survive an international marriage. In the end, love will always come through.

Utilize this instrument for a comprehensive background check Whether your relationship is in its budding phase or you're in the blissful realm of marriage, escalating infidelity rates (over 40% in the past two decades) warrant your caution.

You may want to ascertain whether he is engaging in secretive text conversations with other women, maintaining active profiles on dating platforms like Tinder, or concealing a criminal history. Or you might be fearing the worst - infidelity.

This robust tool is designed to uncover hidden social media and dating profiles, unseen photographs, undisclosed criminal records, and much more, providing you with the clarity you need.

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UNICEF And Zonta International Fight Child Marriage In Nepal


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Access to education and skills training helps girls avoid early marriage and gives them the opportunity to reach their full potential.

A peer facilitator displays materials from the Rupantaran tool kit provided by UNICEF to a class of adolescent girls in Nepal’s Maharajganj Municipality. The 15-module package, developed by UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in collaboration with the Government of Nepal, is designed to equip participants with crucial social and financial knowledge and skills.

Child marriage is an internationally recognized human rights violation

Marriage before age 18 robs girls of their childhood and threatens their well-being. Since 2018, Zonta International has provided critical support for the Global Programme to End Child Marriage (GPEM), a joint initiative between UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) that promotes the rights of adolescent girls to prevent child marriage and pregnancy , and enables them to achieve their aspirations through education and pathways to self-sufficiency.

The GPEM empowers girls to direct their own futures and strengthens the services that allow them to do so, providing critical resources related to sexual and reproductive health and social protection. It also addresses the underlying conditions that sustain child marriage, advocating for data-informed laws and policies that protect girls' rights.

Every girl has the right to a safe and healthy childhood

Nearly half of the world's child brides live in South Asia (45 percent), with the next largest share in sub-Saharan Africa (20 percent), followed by East Asia and the Pacific (15 percent) and Latin America and the Caribbean (9 percent).

The GPEM focuses efforts on 12 of the most high-prevalence countries: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Yemen and Zambia.

In Nepal, teenage marriages and pregnancies are widespread

Nepal's child marriage rate is one of the highest in the world . Child marriage has affected 5 million child brides there, including 1.3 million who are married before the age of 15. Recognizing the pressing need to address this issue, the Government of Nepal raised the legal age of marriage for women and men to 20 in 2017, and has pledged to end child marriage by 2030. Despite progress, teen marriage and pregnancy remain a pressing problem, especially in marginalized communities.

The GPEM has helped establish community-focused, culturally sensitive programming to provide women and girls in Nepal with comprehensive life skills training needed to address and prevent marriage at an early age.

The Rupantaran program teaches young girls valuable life skills

On a recent visit to Nepal, Zonta leadership and members experienced the impact of this programming on girls and women firsthand.

Taught at schools and through women's cooperatives, the Rupantaran program aims to provide adolescents between 10 and 19 with the information and skills they need to navigate society and plan for their future. "To see the faces of the girls — the bright, shining eyes and the hope they expressed — I think that was heartwarming and touching, and these are pictures I will never forget," said Zonta International President Ute Scholtz. Watch the video

Students examine gender stereotypes and learn how to chart their own course

Developed by UNICEF and UNFPA in collaboration with the Government of Nepal, and implemented with support from partners including Zonta, Rupantaran's comprehensive curriculum teaches girls to build social and financial skills, examine gender stereotypes and achieve self-sufficiency.

"In Rupantaran,we learned a lot about child marriage," said 17-year-old Anjani. "We learned that when marriage happens before the age of 20, that is child marriage. Child marriage causes us a lot of harm. Becoming pregnant and birth at a young age can cause a lot of physical issues. Taking care of small children when you're young is difficult too."

“Child marriage causes us a lot of harm.” Anjani, 17

Rupantaran graduate Rachana Lamsal, 18, was selected by her school to take the 10-day facilitators' training. "I loved it from the very first day," she said. "Of all the things I learned during the training, the component of self-awareness is the one that resonates the most with me. It’s so important to be self-aware to achieve anything in life; it’s what drives your commitment to a cause.

"I feel it’s not enough for me to have learned something, it needs to be shared with others around me, people in my society," she continued. "Child marriage must be uprooted because it damages the lives of girls. I want to use my training to uplift the lives of other young girls like me, as well as continue building my own skills. I want to do the best I can to solve these problems at a global level. That’s my dream.”

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TranSenz: MEXT Scholarship and Visa Information for Moving to Japan

International marriage in japan: how to file, marriage paperwork explained for international and foreign couples in japan..

Click here for these instructions in Japanese

If one of the partners in your marriage is a Japanese national, permanent resident, or mid-to-long term resident (in possession of a residence card), then you are eligible to get married in Japan. Legalizing your marriage in Japan will make it easier to get a spouse visa for Japan or to change to a spouse residence status in Japan, simplifying your visa and renewal procedures, make more employment opportunities available, and make it easier to apply for permanent residency later.

Paperwork, Not Ceremony, Not Marriage Counseling

This guide is about submitting the paperwork to legalize your marriage, not about celebrating a wedding. If you’re an international couple, or a couple living internationally, there are advantages to going ahead with the legal paperwork first, even if you cannot have your ceremony, yet. That was what we did- we got married in Japan (though we weren’t there at the time) before I started applying for my visa to move there. There is no such thing as a fiance visa for Japan.

I do not support marriages of convenience, visa marriages or getting married prematurely. I am not going to write a guide about getting divorced in Japan. Make sure this is really what you want to do before reading on.

Get Married in Japan, No Matter Where You Are

First, a quick note: I will use “you” to refer to the foreign spouse or the spouse without a mid-to-long term residence status in Japan. “Your spouse” will refer to the one who is the resident of Japan. If you are both legal residents of Japan, choose your roles yourself. I recommend that the better Japanese speaker play the role of “your spouse” below.

If Your Spouse is in Japan

This becomes a very quick and easy process. You mail your passport copy and notarized affidavit of competence to marry (download from the US Embassy in Japan marriage information page ) to your spouse, he or she fills in the paperwork at the city hall, and you’re done.

If you’re from a country that has a family registration system, then you can submit a Japanese translation of your family register in place of the affidavit of competence to marry.

For the affidavit of competence to marry, you are allowed to translate it yourself if you are getting it notarized at a US Embassy in Japan, since they have Japanese-speaking staff that can check your work (the same goes for the forms related to the Consular Report of Birth Abroad, but that comes later). However, if you are getting it notarized in another country, then you may need to hire a professional translator to do it, even though the Embassy is only going to notarize the English version anyway. Consult with your local embassy (if abroad) or notary for their policy on this.

Get Married in Japan, Even if Neither of You Are There!

It is possible to get legally married in Japan, even if neither you or your spouse are present in the country. However, you will need some help from your spouse’s parents to visit the city hall on your behalf. If you continue to the next steps of this process, getting the Certificate of Eligibility , you’ll need a lot more help from the parents, so it’s best to get used to asking – and to get on their good side – now. We got legally married in Japan despite the fact that we were both living and working in Thailand at the time.

Why register your marriage in Japan?

There are many advantages to registering your marriage in Japan, even if you don’t intend to live there:

  • Save on duplicate paperwork : Japan requires its nationals/residents to legally register their marriage in Japan, even if it’s already been registered under another country’s laws. The United States (and many other countries) has no such requirement. So, if you get your legal marriage in Japan, you only have to do the paperwork once.
  • Easy access to extra records : Chances are, you’ll need to get a duplicate of your marriage certificate at some point. It’s easy to do this from a Japanese city hall, especially if you have parents-in-law in the area.
  • No requirement for physical presence : Neither spouse actually has to be present to get legally married. You can file all the paperwork by mail.

It’s not terribly romantic, but it will save significant hassle to get your legal marriage done in Japan before you start thinking about planning a ceremony. Trust me, planning a wedding is plenty stressful even when you have all the legal paperwork out of the way beforehand.

Married by Mail

This method is only going to be available if one of you (“your spouse” for the purpose of these instructions) is a Japanese national. Registering your marriage is the easiest part of the entire process of moving to Japan as a spouse, as long as you have a little help in Japan. All you have to do is collect the following documents and submit them by post.

Parental Assistance Required

The first two documents you need come from your spouse’s hometown city hall. Hopefully, your spouse still has family there, as you are going to need their help to get the first two items.

  • Kon’in Todoke-sho ( 婚姻届書 ): This is your marriage registration form. Your spouse’ parents will need to pick it up from the the city hall, complete the “witness” blocks, and mail it to you to complete the rest, along with,
  • Koseki Tohon ( 戸籍謄本 ): Your spouse’s family register. If your spouse has not been married before then he or she will still be listed on his/her parents’ family register. This is not a problem.

Documents You Need to Prepare Yourself

These are the same as the documents mentioned in the “If Your Spouse is In Japan” section above.

  • Affidavit of competence to marry, or kon’in yoken gubi shomeisho ( 婚姻要件具備証明書 ): If you’re from a country that has a family registration system, then you can submit a Japanese translation of your family register. Otherwise, you will need to get an affidavit of competence to marry, or whatever the equivalent is for your country. The American version of the Affidavit of Competence to Marry form can be downloaded from the US Embassy in Tokyo’s website (opens in new window). There’s one page each in English and Japanese, and you can fill in both pages yourself. In Japan, it’s not necessary to have it officially translated, but if you’re trying to get it notarized while living abroad, then consult your local embassy or notary for their policy, first. The English page needs to be notarized by your embassy, but the Japanese does not. Note: If you are not from America, you should still be able to use the form from the US Embassy site, but you should also check your own country’s embassy in Japan website to see if they have a preferred version of the form.
  • Copy of the your government ID : If you’re in Japan, then you’ll submit a Residence Registration or Juminhyo ( 住民票 ). If you’re outside Japan, a copy of the information pages of your passport will do.

Mail all of the documents to your spouse’s city hall and within a few days, you’ll be legally married!

Confirming the Marriage Registration

There is a chance that the City Hall will not contact you to confirm that they received your paperwork or to let you know what day it was approved. In Japan, no reply typically means “no problems encountered,” but it’s always best to double-check. After all, you’ll want to know what day to call your anniversary in the future. We decided that we would base our anniversary on the mailing day, but I do not recommend this since you’ll have to use the official approval day when you fill out official paperwork, and keeping the two dates straight can be a bother.

At a more practical level, you will need proof of your marriage to move forward with your visa application paperwork, which means you’ll need your parents-in-law’s help again. In our case, our marriage was approved within four days of our mailing it (not bad, considering international postage time). I recommend sending your marriage paperwork by traceable mail (EMS, DHL, etc.) and waiting five working days after it arrives, then asking your parents-in-law to go to the city hall and pick up your marriage certificate ( 婚姻届受理証明書・婚姻証明書 , Kon’in todoke juri shomeisho or Kon’in shomeisho ) as well as your spouse’s new family register or koseki tohon ( 戸籍謄本 ). I recommend getting several copies, then having one copy formally translated into English (with multiple copies of the translation printed) for use in paperwork in your home country. If you plan to change your name to match your spouse, or to apply for your spouse to get a visa for your country, then you’re going to need original and translated marriage certificates for each of those procedures, so plan ahead!

The next step: Applying for your Certificate of Eligibility (CoE)

If you plan to change your name to match your spouse, or anything like that, I recommend doing that before you move forward to apply for your CoE. You’ll also have to register your name change at your spouse’s city hall once you’re in Japan, but that isn’t as urgent.

The Certificate of Eligibility is the first, biggest, and most difficult step in acquiring your visa for Japan, but fortunately, we have a guide for that, as well. About four months before you plan to come to Japan, please read our guide on how to a apply for a Certificate of Eligibility and spouse visa for Japan ( Japanese version .

Please leave a comment!

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Hello, I have a question that’s rather different. My girlfriend and me are thinking to get married in Japan and do our honeymoon there.. She is Vietnamese and I am Belgian. We are both no residents of Japan. Is it possible to get married there on a tourist visa… given that we can both receive the certificate no impediment to marriage. we also need a birth certificate and some other things.. How about the form? is it really necessary to get the konin todoke from the city office where you plan to get married? I see they sell them online and heard those are legit..

I have not been able to find a similar case online.. And though I contacted a city hall in Tokyo and some other agencies… and embassies even.. I am still in the dark about it.. It seems very difficult to find exact information about it.

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There’s an important difference between having a wedding and doing the legal paperwork to legalize your wedding. As far as I know, one of the two of you would have to be a resident of Japan in order to complete the legal paperwork here through the Japanese authorities. But on the other hand, I would never recommend that you do the paperwork in Japan if you’re not planning to live here! If you do, that would mean that the only legal documentation of your marriage would be held by the city hall where you complete the paperwork. So, any time in the future that you need to prove that you are legally married, you would need to go back to that city hall to get the document (and then get it translated). I have never seen Konin Todoke sold online, but that would strike me as a definite scam! There should be no “selling” involved, and if it doesn’t result in a formal government document issued by a Japanese city, then it would not be legitimate or legal.

I would recommend that you do the paperwork to get married in one of your home countries, so that it’s legally confirmed in a place where it is not difficult for you to get new copies of documentation, if needed, then just have a wedding ceremony in Japan for the experience of it!

Good Luck! – Travis from TranSenz

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Hi! I plan to get married to my partner in Japan this December. But I will be on a tourist visa, I know we can get married even though I’m on a tourist visa, but is it also possible to extend my stay there while we are processing the spouse visa? Or do I have to go back to my home country while its on process?

In general, it is possible to extend your stay if you are applying for a “Change of Status of Residence”, but not if you are applying for a “Certificate of Eligibility.” In your case, as I think we discussed in your previous questions, since you will get married during your time in Japan, I suspect that Immigration will allow you to apply directly for a Change of Status of Residence, if you appeal to them and explain that you could not apply for a Certificate of Eligibility and a Spouse Visa in advance because you could not get married until you came to Japan.

If they allow you to apply for a Change of Status of Residence, then should will stamp your passport with the date of your application. In that case, you will be allowed to stay in Japan until either your application has been processed and you receive the results or until 2 months from the day of the original expiration of your period of stay, whichever comes sooner. However, I have seen that this exemption to allow you to stay in Japan longer does not apply if your original period of stay (on your tourist visa) is 30 days or less.

If Immigration does not allow you to apply for a Change of Status of Residence and tells you to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility, instead, then you would NOT be allowed to remain in Japan longer than your original period of stay while the CoE application was processing.

Hi! Question regarding the documents I need to send to my girlfriend in Japan if she were to marry us there without me being physically there. “Affidavit of competence to marry, or kon’in yoken gubi shomeisho”, I’m from the Philippines. Do I just have to get this and have it notarized locally(in the Philippines) and then send it to her?

Follow-up question. Does it apply to Filipinos too? The physical appearance part. Because I am not in Japan, nor I have a residence visa. But my girlfriend is a Japanese national and is currently living there. Can she still marry us even though I’m not there? Or is that only for US Citizens?

I’m so sorry for another follow-up question. But my girlfriend lives in Fukuoka, where do I get the Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage? (1) Do I get it here from the Philippines? Because I saw a form in the Philippine Embassy in Japan, but its addressed to consul general of Osaka or Tokyo. But she’s far from both of them. (2)Does that mean she can’t marry us in Fukuoka?

(1) The document proving Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage (which is the same as the Affidavit of Competence to Marry we discussed in a separate comment) must come from your government. It does not matter where your girlfriend lives. If your government issues a document verifying that you are not legally married, you can use that. Otherwise, you need the Affidavit we discussed previously and it would need to be notarized by a notary in the Philippines. (2) The form is addressed to the Consul General of the embassy/consulate of the Philippines because it is assumed that you are living in Japan and the form would need to be notarized by your government, in that case. However, since you are living in the Philippines, you can get it done there. In any case, once you have the form, your girlfriend can use it in Fukuoka with no problem.

The allowance for one spouse to file the paperwork for marriage without the other spouse present does not depend on your nationality, so it should be possible in your situation, too. If you’re concerned, though, your girlfriend can call her city hall to make sure.

Yes, you need to submit the Affidavit of Competence to Marry, or an equivalent official government record that shows that you are not married. It does not matter what your nationality is. If your government can issue an official document indicating that you are legally single/not married, then you can use that in place of the Affidavit of Competence to Marry, but if not, you’ll need the affidavit. You’ll need to get it notarized in the Philippines because you need to be physically present for it to be notarized.

Hi again! My Girlfriend is a Japanese national and is currently living there as well. I’m from the Philippines. I would like to ask if we can actually get “married” without me being there? Because that would be really convenient since I can just straight up apply for a spouse-visa from the Philippines if so.

Follow up question! What if we get married this December 2022, will my Spouse Visa get approved even though we are basically newly-weds?

Hi Richard,

Part of the application for the Certificate of Eligibility (a document required before you can apply for the visa) is the Questionnaire, which asks you to describe the history of your relationship. You have to show enough of a history and legitimate relationship for Immigration to believe that it is not just a paper marriage for the purpose of getting you a visa. But if they approve it, then yes, you can apply for a Spouse Visa even if you only just got married.

What if the “history” isn’t that long? Can we prove our relationship’s legitimacy in other ways like thru photos?

Even if your history together isn’t that long, you can prove the legitimacy by the amount of time spent together, who in your respective families knows about your marriage, and through communication records, like including emails or chat logs to show how frequently you stay in contact. You will also need to show snapshots of the two of you together as part of the application materials, too.

Yes, you can get married in Japan without physically being there. I cover how to do it in the article above – the documents that you’ll need to send your spouse in Japan. After you get married in Japan, though, you’re also going to need to register your marriage with the authorities in the Philippines, since you need to submit proof of your marriage from your home country government when applying for your Certificate of Eligibility for the visa.

Hi! Quick question. I’m from the Philippines and I have a Japanese girlfriend. We’ve been dating for almost 4 years now. I plan to go to Japan before the end of 2022 so that we can get married. Can we get married even though I’m on a tourist-visa?

You would be allowed to get married on a Tourist visa (thought I recommend that you prepare all of the required documents you’ll need in advance to save yourself time.) However, it is not a simple process to change from a Tourist Visa to a Spouse Visa to be able to then stay in Japan. In general, it’s not allowed, but exceptions are possible in some cases. Fortunately, one of the common cases for an exception is exactly your situation: If you weren’t yet married when you came to Japan so you couldn’t apply for a Spouse Visa before coming. It’s ultimately up to the decision of the immigration office whether or not to grant an exception, but I still recommend that you also prepare all of the documentation that you’ll need to apply for the Spouse CoE (the requirements to apply for a Change of Status of Residence are the same) in advance, too, to be able to apply as early as possible. You’re also going to need proof that you have filed the paperwork to register your marriage under Philippines law, but you can get that from the Philippines embassy in Japan after you get married.

I see! Thank you! I downloaded and read the checklist. Given I have all those documents ready (just hypothetically), what documents do I need to bring to get married in Japan? Like the ones I need to actually get married, not counting COE and spouse visa yet.

That’s what the article covers. You need a Certificate of Competence to Marry (basically, something to show that you have never been married or that any previous marriages have been terminated) and a copy of your government ID, as well as the marriage application form that you can get from the city hall. The only thing that really requires preparation in advance is the Certificate of Competence to Marry, which has to be a government document or notarized and will also need to be translated into Japanese. I have more information about it in the article above.

I see! Thank you very much!!

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Domoarigato for your very informative article on how to get married in Japan. I have a question regarding notarization of paperwork for getting married in Japan. My fiancé is a Japanese citizen and I am in the United States. Do I need to get the English documents notarized before I send them to her? (she will fill in the Japanese portion) If the English version need notarized before sending to Japan, do I have to use a specific notary? I live in Idaho and the nearest consular is 690 km from here. Thank you so much.

Kind regards, Jim

Thank you for your kind words. Yes, you should get the English version of the Affidavit of Competence to Marry notarized the in US before sending it to your fiancé. She can then translate it herself in Japan.

Any notary is fine. The form indicates that it is being notarized by an official at the US Embassy, but your notary can simply cross that out and write their own information. (If you were getting this done in Japan, the US Embassy or consulate would be the only option for a notary, but in the US, any notary will do!)

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Hi Travis, Thanks for the website it was very informative! I do have a follow up question now in 2022. I am based in the US and my SO is in Japan. Do you know if I will need to get an apostille on my passport or would a notary be sufficient for document verification? Thanks!

Hi Jeremiah,

Notarization would be fine. The apostille system is not common in Japan and notarization is sufficient. (If you are in Japan, the instructions are specifically to get it notarized by an official at the US embassy, but overseas, any notary would work.)

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It worked! They accepted state notary and I am officially married. This guide was truly helpful. Thank you Travis!

That’s great news! Thank you for sharing your success.

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Hi Am asking in behalf of my son. We’re from Philippines. He and his fiancee where planning to get married in Japan .His fiancee also a Filipino holding a student visa but soon a working visa in Japan. Is it possible for them to process their marraige even if he’s still here in the philippines or its better to be there on a tourist visa? And does it mean any document submitted in Japan should be translated in Japanese? Hope you can still reppy or notice my short question.. TIA

As far as I know, your son and his fiancee should be able to complete their official marriage registration in Japan. It’s going to be complicated, though, with having to send original documents from the Philippines and getting everything translated into Japanese (yes, it will need to be in Japanese, with official translations for any formal government documents, etc.). I don’t know if it’s a possibility, but it might be easier if his fiancee was able to fly back to the Philippines to get legally married there! Unfortunately, right now, it is not possible to enter Japan on a tourist visa, so if they were to do the paperwork in Japan, it would have to be by post.

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Hi! Good day! I am a Filipina and I have a Japanese boyfriend. We have been dating for three years. We want to get married but the problem is I am in the Philippines and my boyfriend is in Japan. Do you think you can recommend agencies that can help us get married and get a spouse visa without my existence in Japan?

I am looking forward to hearing from you. Thank you so much.

HI Jennylen,

If your fiance is in Japan, you should not need an agency. He should be able to complete all of the paperwork to get you married officially under Japanese law first then apply for the Certificate of Eligibility for you. You may have to mail him some documents to get it done (like your Affidavit of Competence to Marry or equivalent), and he may have to mail some forms to you for signature, but after that, he can register the marriage at his city hall himself without you being present.

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Hey TranSenz, I’m having similar situation as her. Thank to your useful infos here, I’ve understand most of the steps, But I’ve doubt about Affidavit of Competence to Marry, do you have knowledge if the ward office will accept it if it was issued by Notary office in my country?

I suppose to get the document from my country’s embassy in Tokyo, but I’m unable to fly there because current restriction during this pandemic.

Thank so much

Yes, the ward office should accept it if it is notarized by a notary in your country. I think it only says that it should be notarized by your embassy because the process assumes that you are living in Japan already. I was living in Thailand when I did this paperwork and had my affidavit notarized by the US embassy there. I have also heard of many applicants from the US at least who got their affidavits notarized locally and it was never a problem (even in non-pandemic times). Any authorized notary should be fine!

Sometimes the template form already mentions your embassy on it. In that case, the Notary should cross out that information and fill in their correct details instead.

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Hi Travis! Thank you for such an informative post! Hope you have room for one more question. Can a couple get married by mail if one is not a Japanese national but just a permanent resident in Japan?

Im Filipina and my boyfriend is a Brazilian permanently living in Japan. I can’t go there now due to the pandemic so I was wondering if we could get legally married without me going there. Thank you!

I’m afraid your question came in the middle of the scholarship application season, when this blog is busiest, so I did not get to it until now. As far as I know, the marriage registration process that I described here should work for permanent residents, as well.

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Hello Travis, thank you for putting together this amazing resource. I’d like to ask for some clarifications on a few things you mention.

My spouse is a Japanese national living in Kyoto. I’m a US national currently living in Costa Rica (although my legal residency is US). For the affidavit of competence to marry, am I correct in understanding that i can download and prepare the japanese and english forms from and then have the English version notarized at the US Embassy in Costa Rica? Then I can mail it to my spouse in Kyoto where she can translate it for me? And then she can mail it to the city hall along with the other required documents?

Also, you mention in several places about needing parents-in-law help for some procedures. I’m a little confused because you mention parents-in-law in some of the paragraphs where I thought you were writing about the case where your spouse is in Japan. Can I assume that anywhere you mention parents-in-law that my spouse in Japan can handle those items?

Thanks so much for your help!

Thank you for your kind words! When my wife and I got married, we were both living outside of Japan (in Thailand for work), so that was why we relied on her family members to take care of the paperwork at the city hall. If your spouse is in Japan, she can do all of the procedures at the city hall and you would not need your parents-in-law (although you will need witnesses for the marriage application and your parents-in-law could fill in that section).

Your understanding is correct. You can download the form, complete it and get it notarized at the US Embassy in CR, then mail it to your spouse so that she can complete the paperwork here.

By the way, you referred to your “spouse” being in Japan, but are you already married? These are the procedures to get legally married in Japan. If you are already legally married in another country, then you wouldn’t be getting married for the first time in Japan, instead you would be reporting your marriage to get it acknowledged by Japan, so that is a different process, I think.

Thanks for the reply. We’re not married yet, just using the term for convenience. And I have read the COE post, I’ll dive into that after we get this first piece accomplished.

It turns out the US Embassy in CR is booked for notarization until August…

I’ve read other people’s posts saying I can get it notarized by a notary in the US (I’ll be there in 2 weeks.) They’ve mentioned you should change “Consul of the United States of America” to “XX State Notary Public.”

I’m also curious if you know if it’s OK to type when filling in the PDF or if I need to print it and fill it in by hand – I’m assuming they’ll only accept black ink, etc.

So once it’s notarized, my partner needs to translate the document (or fill in the Japanese version that’s part of the US Embassy download).

And one more question… I’ve heard discussion that some ward offices want original passports and even birth certificates along with the passport. I’m not so comfortable sending my passport to Japan and then staying in CR without a passport.

Thanks again for all your help, this site is invaluable.

Thank you for your kind words!

Yes, I know of applicants in the past who had their certificates notarized by notaries in the US. Like you said, all you need to do is cross out the Consul of the United States of America and change it as appropriate.

Typing in the PDF should not be a problem (it should be preferable for readability’s sake!). If you do write by hand, yes, I recommend black ink.

I think you would only have to show your original passport if you were showing up to the ward office in person. However, if they are being insistent, then a notarized copy of your passport should also be considered as an original.

Hello Travis, i want to let you know that thanks to your help my partner received my approved CoE yesterday. It was submitted in person in Yokohama on July 19 and it was received in the mail on August 21. The comprehensive information you have provided on your website was invaluable for accomplishing this major milestone. Thank you so much!!

P.S. do you have any insight into how the Embassy or Immigration determines what length of stay they will grant when they issue my spouse visa?

Thank you for your feedback! I am happy to hear that your partner got your CoE so quickly. I hope the border restrictions ease soon so that you will be able to come to Japan. The CoE should already indicate the period of stay you have been granted. It should be halfway down on the right side, below your photo. As to what goes into the length of stay, I suspect it has to do with the stability of your financial support in Japan. In most cases I see, people relying on a third party as a financial supporter or on savings tend to have shorter periods of stay. But it the applicant or the spouse in Japan has a reliable income in Japan, you can get a longer period of stay from the beginning.

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