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Early marriage, the health risks & unchanged societies

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Early marriage - Still practised in some parts of India for various reasons including early pregnancy. There has been much said and done about early marriages but we are yet to reach a milestone. Don't let the children bear the burden of back-dated societies. 

J&K women oldest to marry, Jharkhand youngest, shows govt report

Source : Indian Express

Most countries all over the world have declared 18 as the legal minimum age for girls to enter into marriage. However, the practice of early marriage continues to be rampant in many developing countries.In terms of absolute numbers, India has the most child marriages. In 47% of all marriages the bride is a child. Some girls as young as 8 or 9 are married off  and many marry against their will.

Early marriage and childhood

Apart from taking away the childhood, the dreams, the basic human rights of young girls, there are also many ill effects  of child marriage on the young girls’ sexual and reproductive health.

Child marriage or early marriage marks an abrupt and often violent introduction to sexual relations. The initiation of sexual activity at an age when girls’ bodies are still developing causes irreparable harm to both body and mind of the young girl.

Traumas in early marriage

A young girl who is still struggling to understand her own anatomy is forced to make conjugal relations. The girls are also more likely to experience marital rape. They often exhibit post-traumatic stress and depression owing to sexual abuse by the older partner. Forced sexual encounters also lead to irreversible physical damage. The psychological damage cannot even be comprehended.

Husbands are usually older and more sexually experienced  and therefore they often enter the marriage infected with sexually transmitted diseases or HIV. Child brides scarcely have the knowledge or the wherewithal to ask for condom protection and thus become vulnerable to STDs and other infections. Girls are also more likely to develop cervical cancer later in life due to infection with the human papilloma virus.

Early marriage & the pregnancies

Child brides face intense social pressure from their husband, in-laws and family to prove their fertility. Their right to choose when they become pregnant and how many children they will have is no longer theirs. Thus they are more likely to become pregnant early, at an age when their bodies are not yet totally ready for pregnancy and delivery. Almost 90% of adolescent pregnancies occur within the confines of marriage.

Early marriage leads to potential early pregnancy  which further weakens their immune system and health. The already malnourished girl child will suffer from anaemia and ill health, during pregnancy, leading to maternal complications and increased likelihood of death.

Girls between the ages of 15 and 19 who become pregnant are in any case, 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.

Risks of conception at an early age

They are more likely to have obstructed delivery due to the fact of their small pelvis as well as infection, eclampsia and premature labour with all the ensuing complications and the risk of death.

The development of obstetric fistulae which is very common in young girls after delivery can cause further deterioration of both mental and physical health. 65% of all cases of obstetric fistula occur in girls under the age of 18.

Nutrition & Pregnancy bcg

Teenage mothers are also more likely to have children with a dangerously low birth weight, anaemia and inadequate nutrition.

The lack of knowledge because of interrupted education also creates health problems not only for the girl but for the entire family. Young wives are unable to influence sexual relations in a meaningful and healthy way. Married adolescents have the lowest use of contraception and child brides have hardly any access to family planning.

Early marriage but gender biased

In cultures where early marriage is practised, the male is often considered the dominant partner in the relationship. Young girls often become the victim of domestic abuse putting their health further at risk, as they suffer beatings, broken bones and low self-esteem.

In their husband's home the girl child gets limited freedom to leave the home. These girls often live in isolation with little or no means of receiving information on reproductive health issues.

And then we have the issue of healthcare...

They are often powerless to access health care services, as they may need permission to receive such services. Even if they are able to access these services they are typically unable to pay for them. Without health information or social support these married girls are unable to seek support. Their problems remain unknown or ignored by the community, and they becomes invisible victims.

If the issue of early marriage is not properly addressed, the goals of a reduction in maternal mortality as well as a reduction in infant and child mortality cannot be met.

Source : Child marriage around the world

Let's bring a change now or forever be silent

Changing social and gender norms is never easy. Families and communities, including boys and men, need to understand the risks associated with child marriage and become engaged in the process of making change.

Young girls who marry later and delay pregnancy beyond their adolescence have more chances to stay healthier, to better their education and build a better and healthier lifestyle not only for themselves but for their families as well.


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