How Child Marriage Impacts the Life of a Girl - Equality Now
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How Child Marriage Impacts the Life of a Girl

Marriage dramatically limits a girl’s access to education

Education levels are among the strongest predictors of whether a girl will marry early. The more educated a girl is, the less likely she is to marry early.

Societal expectations often hinder a girl who is married from attending school. Once married or engaged, a husband or future husband may disapprove of his wife attending school, and stop her from attending. In some countries, such as Sierra Leone and Tanzania, pregnant girls may be prohibited from attending school as a result of discriminatory government policies.

A girl who is married may also have responsibilities in the home, including housework, caring for children or other relatives, be sent to work to help support her husband’s household, or be physically unable to attend school because of pregnancy, or medical complications associated with pregnancy.

When women and girls are barred from accessing education, their economic opportunities are limited, trapping them in a cycle of poverty, which will, in turn, limit their children’s educational opportunities and, as a result, their own economic prospects.

Child marriage is a significant health risk for women and girls, and their children

Psychologically, women married as children are more likely to suffer from symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and symptoms of depression.

It leaves girls at greater risk of dying in childbirth. Childbirth related complications are among the leading causes of death for adolescent girls (15-19 years old) worldwide; 90% of births to girls between 15-19 years old occur within a marriage.  

A baby born to an adolescent mother between 15-19 years old is at a significantly greater risk of infant mortality, with stillbirths and newborn deaths at 50 percent higher rates than for mothers who gave birth at age 20 and older.

A girl’s body is not physically developed enough to give birth. Early childbearing can also result in an increased risk of miscarriage, difficulties during labor, postpartum hemorrhaging and obstetric fistula.. 90 percent of girls age 15-19 who give birth are already married, underscoring the role of child marriage in perpetuating this crisis in women’s health. Additional barriers preventing young girls from accessing medical care also prevent young girls from receiving adequate care and medical advice throughout their pregnancy.

In the U.S., marriage before age 18 is associated with a 23 percent greater risk of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.  Only 2 US states currently have 18 as a minimum of marriage with no exceptions.

In parts of sub-Saharan Africa, child marriage has also been linked to higher than average rates of HIV/AIDS infections, with married girls in Kenya and Zambia 75 percent more likely than their unmarried sexually active peers to contract HIV.

Because of the imbalance of power in child marriages, many girls are unable to negotiate or to discuss contraception with their husbands, resulting in earlier and more frequent pregnancies. Additionally, higher rates of domestic violence, risks associated with earlier pregnancies and lack of access to medical care may also result in premature death.

Child marriage makes it more likely that a girl or woman will live in poverty

Poverty is a major force behind child marriage around the world. Across the globe, children living in poverty are most vulnerable to child marriage. A girl may be married because her family cannot afford to pay her school fees, or for basic supplies such as sanitary pads. Girls from the poorest families are three times more likely to marry before age 18 than girls from the wealthiest families. Girls become pregnant, often as a result of rape or sexual exploitation. Lack of legal protections and access to complete health care, including abortion when needed can lead to girls being married off the perpetrator by her family to avoid the “shame”.

Economic opportunities are extremely limited for women and girls in many communities, but the more safe education a girl has, the more she is able to increase her earnings and she will reinvest the vast majority of those earnings back into her family. Achieving higher levels of education and becoming economically independent becomes almost impossible within the context of child marriage, trapping a girl and her family, as well as communities and regions, into a cycle of poverty that may continue unless the pattern is broken with the next generation.