Fewer cultures practice child marriage today than ever before, but in certain countries more than 70% of marriages involve young women under the age of 18. In these countries, according the violence against women, maternal and infant mortality rates are higher than countries who do not frequently practice underage marriage. There are several factors that come into play, including intimate partner violence and lack of sufficient medical care.
When we look at the practice of marrying out young female children there is a strong economic and safety factor at play. Many families worry for the financial security and safety of female children and thus allow arranged marriages at an early age as a means of protecting their daughters from harm. While the concept is sound, young women married before the age of 18 are more likely to suffer violence at the hand of their partner.
When pregnancy comes into play, both maternal and infant mortality numbers jump as teens tend to be less likely to seek out and receive adequate medical care. Infants are often born early and risk of pregnancy complications is higher. Children born to young mothers are at increased risk of child malnutrition, extending risk factors to the next generation.
Researchers also looked into HIV rates among young women in countries where child marriage was common practice, but no correlation was found. Authors are unsure if HIV rates are unaffected or if there is simply no sufficient evidence to establish a connection.
Societies are constantly changing, which could lead to further adoption of protective laws and regulations that aim to reduce the number of child marriages. In Yemen, for instance, officials are considering changing current regulations to protect young women from child marriages. Government regulations could reduce the risk of maternal and infant mortality in countries where child marriage remains a common practice.
Source: Anita Raj, Ulrike Boehmer. Girl Child Marriage and Its Association With National Rates of HIV, Maternal Health, and Infant Mortality Across 97 Countries. Violence Against Women. doi: 10.1177/1077801213487747.