How many times have you heard the story of a 14 year old getting pregnant or a 16 year old getting married? You will be surprised these are not rare exceptions, yet you may come across them more often than you think.
According to the UNICEF, 700 million women alive today – roughly 10% of the world’s population – were married before 18; and about 250 million were married before 15. The World Health Organization (WHO) also states that approximately 16 million women aged between 15–19 years give birth each year, accounting for 11% of all births worldwide. In low and middle-income countries, almost 10 per cent of girls become mothers by age 16.
IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES, early pregnancy is a result of early marriage of young girls; but why does early marriage occur?
Parents who live in poverty face tough choices. Giving a daughter in marriage allows parents to reduce family expenses and in communities where a dowry or ‘bride price’ is paid, it is extra income for these poor families. In addition to poverty, many women get married at a young age because they have no other option. This is true for many women in Egypt, where only 24% have paying jobs. The expectation in rural areas is that women will marry, have children, and take care of the household. There are not many other paths open to women with no education. In Menya governorate, Egypt, Aaliyah got married at the age of 14 because her family was very poor and her parents were illiterate. She didn’t know how to read or write, and did not have any marketable skills. There didn’t seem to be any other options for her.
Apart from poverty and illiteracy, another reason caused 41% of women in rural Nepalese communities to get married before 18, love. In Gorkha district, Nepal, 14-year-old Deumaya explains: “I met my husband in the village. He is two years older than me. It was a love marriage – we were in love. We went to another village and stayed there for some time. When we came back, people said we were married.” Deumaya’s story is common in rural Nepalese areas and parents attribute the growing popularity of love marriage to increased literacy and access to mass media. The invasion of modern behaviors, brought by development, media, capital, and migration, now perpetuate early marriage among adolescents.
We now know the reasons but what are the consequences?
Aaliyah says: “My mother in law was very tough with me and my husband used to beat me. The family forced me to do all household chores, so I miscarried my first and second pregnancies. I never had the chance to get antenatal health care.” She continues: “Now I am only 26 years old with three children, I did not know about breastfeeding or child nutrition, my kids are very weak and I did not know how to get my first child a birth certificate, and so he couldn’t join school, lost his chance to get vaccinations and will probably have a poor family because he is uneducated.”
Deumaya is luckily still in school, but she doesn’t know for how long. Her chores in her new household leave little time to study. She says she is happy with her new family, but she says: “If I knew what I’ve now learned, I wouldn’t have married.”
IN DEVELOPED COUNTRIES early pregnancy is a result of unprotected sexual intercourse. In 2013, there were 26.6 births for every 1,000 adolescent females aged 15-19. Nearly 89% of these births occurred outside of marriage; but why?
During adolescence, teenagers often feel pressure to make friends and fit in. The Kaiser Family Foundation states that more than 29% of pregnant teens reported that they felt pressured to have sex, and 33% of pregnant teens stated that they felt that they were not ready but proceeded anyway because they feared ridicule or rejection.
Teenagers are more likely to engage in early reckless sexual activity if they have no guidance and support from their parents. Others refuge to sex and drinking to cope with their problems. Drinking contributes to 75% of pregnancies that occur between ages 14 and 21. Approximately 91% of pregnant teens reported that although they were drinking, they did not originally plan to have sex. These factors were combined together in 16-year-old Melanie’s case. She lost her grandmother after a long illness and her parents’ marriage was floundering and she felt she couldn’t add to their problems by disclosing her difficulties. In an attempt to deal with her pain, she sought comfort in alcohol and a physical relationship which led to her being pregnant, thus complicating her difficulties.
In some cases, it is not actually the teenager’s choice, and the cause is sexual abuse or rape. The Guttmacher Institute states that 43-62% of teens were impregnated by an adult male and approximately 5% of all teen births are the result of a rape.
Early marriage and pregnancy can have devastating consequences for the girl’s and the child’s health. Neither physically nor emotionally ready to give birth, girls face higher risk of death in childbirth and are particularly vulnerable to pregnancy-related injuries such as obstetric fistula. Research reveals that only 46% of pregnant adolescents actually have the baby. The remainder of these pregnancies ends in abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth.
A teenager is no more than a big child. A child can’t handle his own responsibility, let alone the responsibility of another human being, another soul. Children should remain children and enjoy their childhood, and their parents and the society should ensure that they do.