Child Marriage: Still a pressing global health concern
Some proponents of child marriage in Nigeria try to rationalize and justify the act as simply a practice based on long standing tradition. But it is simply unjustifiable, and sometimes based on those traditional beliefs entrenched in patriarchy that only subjugates a girl to long term harm.
So, what does it really mean to be “married” as a child in 2019? Well, it typically equates to a lifetime of psychological distress and health consequences that may even prove deadly. Here is what the available research has revealed in regards to the health problems faced by children forced into marriage:
Children forced into marriage are at an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Young girls forced into marriage, are often times victims of both physical and sexual violence. Such violence is a common theme that tends to permeate the everyday life of a girl forced to marry an adult male. The men may spread various sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDs, syphilis, gonorrhea, and many other infections. Children and adolescence living with HIV in Nigeria, tend to have very poor health outcomes in general. HIV treatment will usually involve use of anti-retroviral medications. The reality though is that underage girls that are married are usually less likely to have access to healthcare and access to medications or treatments required to manage STIs.
Children forced into marriage have an increased likelihood of exposure to Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infections and heightened cervical cancer risk.
Human Papilloma virus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection in which some viral strains have the potential to lead to cervical cancer. Married underage girls are likely to be forced into sexual activity at a much younger age and therefore are at a heightened risk of exposure to HPV infections as compared to unmarried girls.
HPV 16 and 18 are the worrisome strains related to cancer. Nearly 14,000 women annually are infected with cervical cancer in Nigeria. HPV vaccinations like Gardasil can lower the risk of cervical cancer. However, these vaccinations have yet to be formally introduced into the country. It is less likely that underage married girls would even have the access to such vaccinations even if the vaccines were made readily available in the country. Children forced into marriage are typically sexually exploited and tend to be denied important health services from their abusive “spouse”.
Children forced into marriage have poor maternal health outcomes
Girls that marry young tend to face several reproductive health challenges and endure a range of obstetric complications. Child marriages may add to the already high rate of poor maternal outcomes in Nigeria. These underage girls forced to marry are more likely to die during child birth. They face the additional risk of having low birth weight babies, still born deaths, and other serious complications like the formation of an obstetric fistula. Moreover, pregnancy at too young of an age is a physiological burden to the underdeveloped body of a child that is still trying to properly mature.
Children forced into marriage are at a heightened risk of battling lifelong mental health problems
The 2011 research published in the journal pediatrics, found that those in child marriages have an increased likelihood of developing a psychiatric illness. These children may experience intense social isolation, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-harming behavior, and even suicide.
Mental health disorders have always been a taboo topic in Nigeria. Attitudes surrounding mental health in the country are changing very slowly. Chances are that any young child, who develops a psychiatric condition secondary to a child marriage, may be further ostracized from society and may never actually receive the appropriate treatment necessary to address any psychiatric problem. Interventions to curtail the practice of child marriage are so crucial in protecting the long term reproductive health and mental health of young girls around the world. Children must no longer be victimized and oppressed by such practices.
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