Let us protect our girls, not marry them off

a month ago

IN this issue, we report on a 16-year old who has fallen pregnant, dropped out of school, and is now being forced by her own parents, to marry the father of the child she is carrying, who is 17 years old and is for all practical purposes, a child as well.

This is quite disturbing, to say the least. It is not the solution to the social ill that is child pregnancy. Forcing a child into a (loveless) marriage is a wrong that society uses to right another wrong, and the consequences, especially on the girl, are far reaching. The dramatic increase in the number of teenage pregnancies in many parts of the developing world, has a serious impact on adolescent girls’ health, education and economic prospects.

Like UNFPA says, to prevent adolescent pregnancies, we must stop blaming girls and start addressing the circumstances that make marriage and motherhood the only options for them.

One-third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18, with one in nine married before the age of 15. While much of the attention for programmes addressing adolescent reproductive health and HIV prevention focuses on unmarried youth, the majority of unprotected sexual activity, pregnancy, and childbearing among adolescent girls in most developing countries occurs within marriage.

When girls marry at a young age, they often leave their homes, stop attending school, and lose contact with family and friends. For many, marriage marks the beginning of their sexual life, even when this takes place at very young ages. Studies have shown that young married girls face several disadvantages that affect their health as well as their social and economic well-being. Girls who are married before age 18 are much more likely to live in poor households, have less or no education, suffer from pregnancy-related complications, experience domestic violence, and have lower decision-making power in their household.