Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Girl, Interrupted: The Tragic Cost of Child Marriage

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Girl, Interrupted: The Tragic Cost of Child Marriage

Article excerpt

The young schoolgirl is in the front row of the dusty auditorium. Her feet don't reach the floor. She swings her thin legs and shifts in the large wooden seat as the presentation to foreign visitors drones on. She could be any child anywhere. There is one notable difference: If her community had not intervened, she would not be a schoolgirl, but a wife.

She lives in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, where 50 percent of girls are married by age 15, and 80 percent by age 18. If current trends continue, 100 million girls--some as young as 7 or 8--in the developing world (predominantly South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa) will be married in the next 10 years.

Motivations for child marriage vary from region to region, and include custom and sometimes religious beliefs. But poverty is almost always a major factor. Sometimes, in a poor family, child marriage is seen as a way to eliminate one mouth to feed. Conversely, sometimes marriage is seen as a means of improving the girl's or the whole family's lot, by linking them to a family of greater means.

The cruel irony is that child marriage holds back entire communities in their socioeconomic development. Girls are pulled from school to be married, truncating the skills and options for both the girls and the children they will bear. As the International Center for Research on Women's report Too Young to Wed puts it, "Girls who marry young are more likely to be poor and remain poor."

The most tragic cost of child marriage is in lives lost. Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than women ages 20 to 24. Girls aged 15 to 19 are twice as likely to die. Infant mortality also increases: Young girls" bodies often are not developed enough to successfully deliver an infant without medical intervention. Such intervention is nearly impossible in remote areas, and in very poor countries hard to get anywhere. One gynecologist in rural Ethiopia says he is the only OB/GYN that he knows of in a region of 2.5 million people. He regularly loses even adult women with routine delivery complications, in the hospital, because he lacks the basics, such as blood and sutures.

Risk for HIV infection is also higher among young girls than older women; marriage, of course, offers no protection if the husband is infected. …

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