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PRESS RELEASE: Reducing child marriage will accelerate efforts to improve maternal health

  • Complications in pregnancy and childbirth are leading cause of death in girls aged 15-­‐19 in developing countries; 90% of adolescent pregnancies are to girls who are already married
  • New study finds that a 10% reduction in child marriage could be associated with a 70% reduction in a country’s maternal mortality rates
  • Marriage of 13 year-­‐old girl sparks outcry in Malaysia Tuesday 28 May 2013

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Child marriage and maternal health are inextricably linked. Complications in pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-­‐19 in the developing world; 90% of births to adolescents aged 15-­‐19 take place within marriage. At Women Deliver 2013, Girls Not Brides will emphasise that if the international community is to accelerate improvements in the health of women and girls worldwide, we cannot ignore the impact of child marriage.

Child marriage encourages the initiation of sexual activity at an age when girls’ bodies are still developing and the risks of pregnancy and childbirth are high. Girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than girls in their 20s. Where girls survive childbirth, they are at increased risk of pregnancy-­‐related complications and injuries such as obstetric fistula: 65% of all cases of fistula occur in girls under the age of 18.

“There is a perception that somehow marriage protects girls. But that is not the case; it simply means that child brides fall off our radar and that the sexual, emotional and physical burdens they face are ignored,” stated Lakshmi Sundaram, Global Coordinator of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage. “It’s not easy to talk about girls being child wives and all that marriage entails for them, but we can’t shy away from an issue when it has such an impact on the health of so many girls and women.”

Child brides are under intense social pressure to prove their fertility, which makes them more likely to experience early and frequent pregnancies. They know little about their bodies, their sexual and reproductive health, and their right to access contraception.

“There has been little recognition to-­‐date of the unique needs of child brides, who are vulnerable and often isolated from mainstream healthcare services,” added Lakshmi Sundaram. “There must be a greater effort to tailor maternal health programmes to their needs. We must recognise, for example, that it is extremely difficult for child brides to assert their preferences to their husbands, particularly when it comes to negotiating safe sexual practices and the use of family planning.”

Reducing child marriage will accelerate efforts to reduce maternal mortality

If we address child marriage and its underlying consequences, we will likely see significant improvements in the health of girls and women and a reduction in maternal deaths globally.

A new study by Professor Anita Raj, Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, and Ulrike Boehmer, PhD, Associate Professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, demonstrates that a 10 percent reduction in girl child marriage could be associated with at 70 percent reduction in a country’s maternal mortality rate.*

The study, published in the journal Violence Against Women this month, compared maternal and child health indicators with girl child marriage rates for 97 nations in which relevant data was available.

Marriage of 13 year‐old girl sparks outcry in Malaysia

In late February 2013, a 40 year-­old man was charged with the statutory rape of a 13 year-­old girl in the Sabah region of Malaysia. Following the assault, the man reportedly took the girl as a second wife with consent of his first wife and the victim’s parents.

The case has sparked public outcry in Malaysia, with calls on the authorities to ensure that the attacker does not escape prosecution by choosing to marry his victim. Charges have been brought.

In response to the incident, the Malaysian Child Rights Coalition, which includes Girls Not Brides members Voice of the Children, Malaysian Child Resource Institute (MCRI) and Protect and Save the Children, said: “Through early marriage, the rights of a child victim to health – emotional, physical, psychological – education and protection are seriously compromised.”

“Where traditional practices are concerned, they must not supersede the rights of the child,” added the Coalition.

Child marriage: a global problem too long ignored

Every year an estimated 14 million girls are married before they reach the age of 18. In the developing world, 1 in 3 girls are married by age 18, and 1 in 9 are married by age 15, some as young as eight or nine.

Child marriage cuts across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicities and occurs around the world; 46% of girls under 18 are married in South Asia; 38% in sub-­‐Saharan Africa; 21% in Latin America and the Caribbean; 18% in the Middle East and North Africa; and in some communities in Europe and North America too.

Child marriage does not only impact on girls’ health, it affects every aspect of her development. Girls who marry as children are more likely to drop out of school. Child marriage entrenches gender inequality as child brides have little say in when or whom they will marry. In addition, they are more likely to describe their first sexual experience as forced and are vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

“The global community must take child marriage seriously,” said Ms Sundaram. “If we don’t explicitly address the needs of girls, and hold ourselves accountable for their welfare, 142 million girls will marry as children by 2020.”

About Girls Not Brides

Girls Not Brides, founded in September 2011, is a global partnership of more than 250 non-­‐governmental
organisations committed to ending child marriage. Girls Not Brides members are based in over 50 countries. Follow on Twitter @GirlsNotBrides

Media contact

Laura Dickinson, +44 7500864871
* For more information about the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine report, contact Scott LaFee, +001 619 543 6163, Download the study: