Abstract: Early Marriage and Sexual and Reproductive Health among Mahadalit Youth in Bihar, India – a Community- Based Participatory Research Approach – Blog Post #1

Hi everyone,

I am extremely grateful to the Charles Center and Sharpe Scholars Program for helping me fund my summer research! I have been working on this research proposal for two years now, having started developing the proposal my first semester, freshman year with a great deal of support from Professor David Aday through his Sharpe seminar “Communities & Neighborhoods: Class, Space, and Race” and his research methods course. I also reached out to Professor Camilla Buchanan, my professor for Introduction to Epidemiology and an MD/MPH who I felt could also give me great advice on conducting public health research at the community level. After freshman year, I got in touch with “Pathfinder International: India,” a nonprofit that offered me support for my research, which I will conduct this summer, alongside their implementation project in the Katihar, Saharsa, and Purnea districts of Bihar.

Child marriage—formally defined by UNICEF as the union of two individuals, either of which is under the age of 18—is a deeply-embedded custom that is most prevalent in rural areas of developing countries (UNICEF, 2014). Currently, India has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world (UNICEF, 2013). The state of Bihar accounts for a particularly high percentage of early marriage within the country, as 40.9% of women ages 20 to 24 were married before the age of 18 in rural areas of the state, according to India’s 2015-2016 National Family Health Survey. The practice can result in negative consequences for young women such as social isolation, limited educational and career opportunities, poor health (e.g. risk for STDs, complications during pregnancy), and domestic violence (Center for Reproductive Rights, 2013).

This summer, I hope to travel to Bihar, India to understand what shared beliefs are held among community members belonging to the Mahadalit caste—one of the most socioeconomically vulnerable groups in the nation—regarding early marriage, family planning, and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) (Pathfinder International, 2015; United Nations in India, 2013). Pathfinder’s implementation project was designed to implement interventions to improve SRH outcomes for Mahadalit youth, which were developed using information from a formative assessment conducted by a third-party (used to build a socioeconomic profile of each village and to gain a glimpse into attitudes towards early marriage and SRH). However, using community-based participatory research (CBPR), I hope to build upon the formative assessment through a questionnaire, interviews, and “go-alongs” (accompanying residents on their daily routines) to understand shared beliefs regarding early marriage and SRH, and thereby, better tailor interventions to community needs. I will work with community members, local doctors, civic and religious associations, and government officials to understand why the practice persists, whether community members are concerned about early marriage, and whether there are members who are situated to promote or resist efforts towards social change. I will share the data with community partners and engage them in proposing solutions that may mitigate the impact of the practice. Ultimately, we will enhance their trust and ownership of the research process, making our collaborative efforts sustainable.

I look forward to contributing to existing CBPR research on early marriage and to making a sustainable impact! Good luck to everyone with their summer research as well! 🙂


  1. Congratulations on the funding, Neha. It appears that you will, in fact, be able to start this research this summer. You’ve worked carefully, thoughtfully, and diligently to get the project proposal to this point and I’m happy to be able to continue to work with you on it.

  2. nagrawal01 says:

    Thank you so much, Professor Aday! I really couldn’t have done this without your help!