Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Married at Seven: Stories from Child Brides in Nigeria

“I was married at the age of seven. My husband was much older than me. He waited until I was nine years old to have intercourse. It was very difficult. He passed away when I was 12 years old. I was pregnant at the time, but lost the baby after a difficult labor, which went on for days. I do not want to re-marry. I do not want any man to come near me.”
-Amina, a child bride

Amina is one in thousands that has such a story. Around 15 million young women between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth annually, accounting for more than 10 per cent of the babies born worldwide. Because adolescent females are not yet fully developed emotionally and physically, pregnancy and childbirth are often life threatening and the outcomes for their newborns are much worse than for older women.

The impact of early marriage is tremendous on women and their families worldwide. Besides the number of health issues associated to early marriage such as fistula or maternal death, child bridges are typically deprived of an education, and thus condemned to a lifetime of dependence on her husband and his family. More than one third (35 per cent) of Nigerian women experience their first pregnancy by the age of 19 or below (10 per cent have their first pregnancy by age 16).

The early age of marriage, especially in certain parts of Nigeria, puts these girls at great risk. The earlier a girl is married, the earlier she starts having children. The earlier she starts getting pregnant without a fully developed body and reproductive system, the higher her risk of dying with the pregnancy or from birth complications. Many of these young mothers, due to natural ignorance, cannot decipher and alert
others of the signs and symptoms of pregnancy malfunctioning and/or labour complications. These often lead to help getting to them when its too late.

Many of these women die in the prime period of their lives; the last glimpse of life being that of pain and great distress: from hemorrhage, convulsions, obstructed labour, or severe infection after delivery or unsafe abortion.

Research findings indicate that younger adolescents have a higher risk of delivering babies with low birth weight and delivering prematurely than older adolescents and persons who are 20 to 34. One study suggested that adolescent mothers are less likely to stimulate their infant through affectionate behaviours such as touch, smiling, and verbal communication.

*Reported by Adanma Ike

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