Child Marriage Rates Associated with Maternal Mortality

Posted on June 20, 2013  |  Related Issues: Maternal Health

IndiaWest, June 19, 2013--Countries in which girls are commonly married before the age of 18 have significantly higher rates of maternal and infant mortality, report researchers in the current online issue of the journal Violence Against Women.

The study, by Dr. Anita Raj, an Indian American professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, and Dr. Ulrike Boehmer, an associate professor in the Boston University School of Public Health, is the first published ecological analysis of child marriage and maternal mortality.

The study demonstrates that a ten percent reduction in girl child marriage could be associated with at 70 percent reduction in a country's maternal mortality rate.

“Our analyses accounted for development indicators and world region, and still documented that nations with higher rates of girl child marriage are significantly more likely to contend with higher rates of maternal and infant mortality and non-utilization of maternal health services,” Raj stated in a press release.

Girl child marriage is defined as the marriage of girls age 17 and younger. Although the practice has generally declined in recent years, it remains relatively common in regions like South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where up to 70 percent of females in some countries are married as minors. 

Raj and Boehmer said certain social contexts increase the likelihood of child marriage, among them rural and impoverished areas with low access to health care and girl education. Regional conflict and instability tend to worsen the situation.

“Girl marriage is viewed as a means of protection from both economic instability and rape due to perceptions of sexual availability of unmarried girls and women,” said Raj. “Poverty and conflict can exacerbate parents’ desire to have their girl married at a younger age.”

Child brides are also more likely to experience social inequities – reduced status and access to education or jobs – and suffer gender-based abuse. The effects extend into personal health: Girls married as minors are more likely to bear children as minors, resulting in higher risk for delivery complications, low infant birth weight and child malnutrition.

The new study builds upon earlier findings. Raj and Boehmer compared maternal and child health indicators and HIV prevalence with girl child marriage rates for 97 nations in which relevant data was available. 

They found strong associations between high child marriage rates and poor health indicators, but no evidence of higher child bride-higher HIV prevalence.

Nonetheless, the authors say their latest work supports greater advocacy and action to reduce child marriage rates.

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