This week is National Women’s Health Week, and we are looking at issues affecting female physical health worldwide. In many developing countries where women are not valued highly, a woman’s health can be profoundly affected by challenges and issues she faced when growing up. Women’s health starts with girl’s health.
A particularly dangerous threat to the health and well-being of girls is child marriage. While child marriage is outlawed by most governments, lax law enforcement and cultural acceptance leaves an open door for families in rural villages to barter away their daughters. According to a United Nations 2012 report, 37,000 girls under the age of 18 are married every day, and between 2011-2020, 142 million adolescent girls will be married off. 50 million of those girls will be under the age of 15.
The life of a child bride is dangerous. A girl who marries before the age of 18 is much more likely to be a victim of violence and abuse. When she gets pregnant, she is five times as likely to die in childbirth as a woman in her 20s.
“Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in young women aged 15-19,” says Flavia Bustreo, M.D., Assistant Director-General for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health at the World Health Organization. “Young girls who marry later and delay pregnancy beyond their adolescence have more chances to stay healthier, to better their education and build a better life for themselves and their families.”
Poverty and level of education are big factors in determining whether or not a girl will be married as a child. According to the UN report, “girls who are poor, have little or no education…are most likely to marry or enter into union before age 18.” Girls with no education are three times as likely to marry before the age of 18 as those with secondary or higher education.
She Is Safe (SIS) works in Mali, India, and Nepal, three countries with high rates of child marriage. We work to provide economic empowerment for women and their families in rural areas so that they will not sell their daughters or arrange for them to be married at a young age. Women who are brought into SIS Transformation Groups enjoy fellowship, training, and seed funds that allow them to start businesses. With these opportunities, women are able to bring capital into their homes, and they are more respected by their husbands. This has a profound impact on the future of their daughter’s health, education, and well-being. When a woman learns her own value, she will learn the value of her daughter.
You can support the work of She Is Safe to prevent girls from becoming child brides: