Maternal And Infant Mortality Risks Linked To Earlier Marriage

Marriageable age is the age at which a person is allowed by law to marry, either as a right or subject to parental forms of consent. Age and other prerequisites to marry vary between jurisdictions. Typically in the US, the age is at or around 18. Marriage under the age of 18 is permitted with parental or judicial approval in some states.

There are reasons age-limits are in place. Marriage age should not be confused with the age of consent. In many countries, the ages in which young girls are married off vary significantly and are considered controversial. Girls, literal girls and not young women, are often promised or betrothed to men who are notably older, who in this country (US) would be seen as sexual predators given the age difference.

Typically, preadolescent girls and teenagers are not married of their own free will but are bound to by antiquated customs and family obligation or pressured due to socioeconomic status.

A study, led by Anita Raj, PhD – a professor in the Department of Medicine in the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine – and Ulrike Boehmer, PhD – an associate professor in the Boston University School of Public Health – addressed the link between child bride marriage and the heightened risk of maternal and infant mortality (death).

The report’s ecological analysis, published in the journal Violence Against Women, as well as other statistical data, shows countries where girls are commonly married before the age of 18 have higher rates of premature death.

Girls married as minors are more likely to bear children before they are 18, resulting in higher risk for delivery complications, low infant birth weight, and malnutrition. There is also an increased prevalence of diseases like HIV in many of the nations where the practice of child marriage is common.

The study suggests that a 10 percent reduction in child marriage, defined as 17 or younger, could be associated with a 70 percent reduction in a country’s maternal mortality rate. The practice, though on the decline, is relatively common in regions of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa where 70 percent of females wed as minors – especially in rural or impoverished areas with limited access to healthcare and permissible education for girls.

The United Nations estimates more than 60 million young teens and prepubescent girls are subjected to underage matrimony – which is considered a health and human rights violation. But due to regional instability many parents perceive the act of marrying off their daughters as the only way to protect them from both the economic effect and rape. However, the girls are often subjected to abuse and assaults within their own marriage.

Investigators feel the report is universally informative as, according to Raj, “These findings are meaningful because they hold true for adolescent pregnancy, regardless of marriage. Young age at childbirth increases risk for both maternal and infant mortality.”

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