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5 reasons why an end to child marriage will improve maternal health

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Tuesday, 28 May, 2013

"A 10 per cent reduction in child marriage could be associated with a 70 per cent reduction in a country's maternal mortality rates." As world leaders and civil society organisations gather in Kuala Lumpur for Women Deliver 2013, a major global conference on women's health, Girls Not Brides discuss the links between maternal health and early marriage.

The scale of child marriage is huge: between 2010 and 2020 it is estimated that 142 million girls will marry as children. But if we act to prevent child marriage now, we could dramatically improve the maternal and child health outcomes for millions of girls and women.

Child marriage and maternal health are inextricably linked. As world leaders, government ministers, civil society organisations and maternal health specialists gather in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for Women Deliver 2013, a major global conference on women’s health, we outline 5 reasons why ending child marriage should be a vital part of efforts to improve the health of girls and women worldwide.

1. Pregnancy and childbirth are dangerous for adolescent girls; most adolescent pregnancies take place within marriage.

Complications in pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in girls aged 15-19 in low- and middle-income countries. 90 per cent of adolescent pregnancies in the developing world are to girls who are already married.

2. Child marriage encourages the initiation of sexual activity at an age when girls’ bodies are still developing.

Girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties.

Child brides are also vulnerable to obstetric fistula, a preventable yet debilitating injury resulting from obstructed labour or prolonged childbirth. 65 per cent of all cases of obstetric fistula occur in girls under the age of 18.

3. Child brides are under intense social pressure to prove their fertility and have little power to plan whether, when or how many children to have.

Child brides often face pressure from their husband’s family, their own family and the wider community to have children soon after marriage. They become mothers at an early age, which makes them more likely to experience early and frequent pregnancies.

It is very difficult to for child brides to assert their wishes with their often older husbands and it is hard for them to exercise their right to family planning.

4. Child brides are particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Child brides lack the knowledge or power to abstain from sex or to negotiate safe sexual practices with their often older and more sexually experienced husbands.

5. Reducing child marriage could accelerate our efforts to reduce maternal mortality.

There are strong correlations between maternal mortality rates and child marriage prevalence rates. A 10 per cent reduction in child marriage could be associated with a 70 per cent reduction in a country's maternal mortality rates.

Follow the discussions at Women Deliver 2013:

Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation.

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