OPINION: Effects of child marriage on girls’ lives are seriously understated
By Doris Kathia
Sometimes the term child marriage obscures the fact that the practice disproportionately affects girls rather than boys. It is often the case that an underage girl gets married off to an adult man.
Many factors interact to place a child at risk of marriage, including poverty; the perception that marriage will provide ‘protection’; family honor; social norms; customary or religious laws that condone the practice; an inadequate legislative framework and the state of a country’s civil registration system.
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. Child marriage place girls in the role for which they are unprepared, and may place economic pressures on them.
This often compromises a girl’s development by resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupting her schooling and limiting her opportunities to reach her full potential, thus deepening a dangerous cycle of oppression and harm.
A girl who is married may also have responsibilities in the home, including housework; caring for children or other relatives; being sent to work to help support her husband’s household; 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 continuous cycle of poverty, which will, in turn, limit their children’s educational opportunities and, as a result, their own economic prospects.
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.
In addition to the physical danger this presents to women and girls, child marriage also has lasting implications on girls’ and women’s mental health and they are more likely to suffer from symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
Due to 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.
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 75% more likely than their unmarried sexually active peers to contract HIV.
Challenging cultural norms among people who have not been exposed to alternatives ways of life is difficult. But we must strive to empower communities to improve their way of living.
Doris Kathia is a youth advocate at NAYA Kenya