In the UK the average age for a woman to marry is 31. By this time a woman will have been to school, possibly onto university, have developed a career and may have had a child. Whichever course her life has taken before she made the choice to marry, she will have had control.
But for the 700 million women around the world who were married before 18, there was little, if any, choice involved. These child brides will experience many early marriage problems, which cause untold damage to themselves, their children and their communities.
The Main Early Marriage Problems
For girls in developing nations, being married before the age of 18 brings with it many problems. These issues not only impact their lives but also those of others around them.
1. Lower Life Expectancy. There are several factors at play that decrease a girl’s life expectancy is she marries young. Child brides will often fall pregnant and give birth before their bodies fully mature. This increases their risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth. Each year 50,000 teenagers die of pregnancy complications3. Victims of early marriage also have higher rates of HIV/AIDS and other STIs due to lack of control over contraception. They are also more likely to suffer physical violence.
2. Higher Infant Death Rates. Early marriage problems also affect children of child brides. Teenage mothers are more likely to suffer problems in pregnancy and childbirth, such as premature birth and stillbirths. Infant mortality is 50% higher in children of mothers under the age of 20 than those who are over 24.
3. Lower Educational Attainment. Of all the early marriage problems this one has perhaps the furthest reaching impact. In many developing nations girls already have limited access to education, but once they are married off their education stops altogether. A girl with no education is 3 times more likely to marry before 18 as girls with secondary education5. It’s a cyclical problem, as daughters of young, uneducated mothers are more likely to drop out of school and marry young.
You Can Help Stop These Early Marriage Problems
Early marriage is a cultural practice and cannot be stopped easily. It requires a radical change in the beliefs and values of communities and countries, but if nothing is done the negative impacts of early marriage problems will continue to be felt.
There is a worldwide effort to bring about an end to early and forced marriage. By empowering girls with education and support, educating wider communities about early marriage problems and championing laws that ban early marriage we can end this harmful practice.
You can give child marriage the finger by supporting Plan UK’s Ring campaign to end early marriage.