What Are the Long Term Impacts of Child Marriage? Your Questions Answered - Equality Now
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What Are the Long Term Impacts of Child Marriage? Your Questions Answered

Child “marriage” is a human rights violation that impacts women and girls, along with their families and communities, in a variety of overlapping ways. Over 720 million women and girls alive today were married before age 18. Regardless of where in the world she lives, child “marriage” deprives a girl of a future in which she can reach her full potential and furthers a dangerous cycle of oppression and harm.

What impact does child “marriage” have on a girl’s education?

Marriage dramatically limits a girl’s access to education, and 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. Moreover, 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.

Are girls married before age 18 more vulnerable to domestic violence?

According to the International Council of Research On Women (ICRW), women with low levels of education and married adolescents between the ages of 15-19 years old are at a higher risk of domestic violence than older and more educated women. Globally, girls who marry before age 18 are 50 percent more likely to face physical or sexual violence from a partner throughout the course of their life.

Girls who marry before 18 are also more likely to describe their first sexual experience as forced.

Because the vast majority of child marriages are younger girls to older men, there is an inherent imbalance of power in these relationships, which is often linked to domestic violence. In addition to the physical danger this presents to women and girls, violence can also have lasting psychological implications on girls’ and women’s mental health.

What impact does child marriage have on girls’ health?

Child marriage is a significant health risk for women and girls. Psychologically, women married as children are more likely to suffer from symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and symptoms of depression.

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.

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.

What effects does early pregnancy have on a girl?

Globally, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls ages 15-19 years old, with an estimated 70,000 girls dying each year of pregnancy and childbirth related complications. A baby born to an adolescent mother between 15-19 years old is at 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, which can occur when a mother gives birth before her body is physically ready to do so. 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.

Does child marriage make it more likely that a girl or woman will live in poverty?

Poverty is a major force behind child marriage around the world. A girl may be married because her family cannot afford to pay her school fees, or for basic supplies such as sanitary pads. Across all regions, children living in poverty are the most vulnerable to child marriage, and girls from the poorest families are three times more likely to marry before age 18 than girls from the wealthiest families.

Economic opportunities are extremely limited for women and girls in many communities, but the more 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.  

What can I do to help?

Share this and other information you find about child marriage on social media and with others in your social networks.

You can also take action today and join Equality Now in our work to end child "marriage" around the world and call for the implementation and enforcement of laws that make sure no girl is a bride.