Early marriage, also referred to as child marriage, is when a child under the age of 18 is given in matrimony. Such marriage customers are quite widespread in the cultures of many nations throughout South America, Oceania, Asia and Africa, as well as in some areas of Europe.
This tradition has been ongoing for centuries and it is based on ideas of the importance of female virginity, the perceived inability of women to take care of themselves and work for money, the reinforcement of social status and other cultural factors.
An increase in advocacy for human rights has decreased the practice of child marriage in a number of areas. However, the problem is still a reality for thousands of young people around the world to this day.
When child marriage is practiced, the carefree years of childhood and adolescence when young people are able to learn about the world and explore who they are, are cut short. For young girls, there are many negative consequences on their sexual, reproductive and mental health and many of their meaningful life experiences of the adolescent age are lost forever. Child marriage essentially strips these young girls of their innocence, their childhood, their basic human rights, their dreams and their health.
Dangerous health consequences
What are some of the negative health consequences that are associated with child marriage?
• Girls who are between the ages of 15 and 19 when they become pregnant are much more likely to experience complications during their pregnancy and childbirth. Because their bodies have not developed fully, childbirth puts them under a lot of strain which results in obstetric fistula and obstructed labour as well as infection, eclampsia and anaemia.
• These teenage mothers are also more likely to have children with a dangerously low birth weight, anemia and inadequate nutrition.
• Young mothers have been found to be more likely to develop cervical cancer at some point later in their life.
• Because pregnancy lowers the immune system, pregnant girls in nations with diseases such as malaria are much more susceptible.
• According to UN studies, girls who marry before they reach the age of 18 are much more likely to become victims of violence by the hands of their partner than those who marry at an older age.
• As their older husbands are more sexually experienced than them and they are expected to have unprotected sex to demonstrate their fertility, young teenage brides are also at risk of contracting many sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and the human papilloma virus.
• In many of these situations, the young girls are financially dependent on their husbands and don’t have the power in the relationship to advocate for their own sexual health, such as asking their partner to wear a condom, be sexually monogamous or be tested for HIV.
These are just a few of the negative health consequences that are associated with early marriage. To find out more about how you can help us end child and forced marriage, visit the Plan UK website at www.plan-uk.org today.