Marrying off girls in their teens has a lasting and profound negative impact on the overall health of the girls, right from the time they turn a new chapter in their lives to having a family of their own, doctors say.
“The girl will not be able to have a sexual life with a man. There will be issues of vaginal tear and bleeding at that age,” says Dr Manorama, pediatrician and former Child Welfare Committee Chairperson, as she recalls a case of a teen who was under brutal attack by her husband as she did not cooperate with his sexual advances.
With no knowledge of contraception and conception, if the girl becomes pregnant there will be a host of other health issues, including a high risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension.
“She will be mentally unprepared for pregnancy. Imagine a child having a child. If the girl is from a low socio-economic background, she may not be getting adequate nutrition. She may be malnourished, anemic and have hypoproteinemia (abnormally low level of protein in the blood). If she is from a better economic background, she may have been on a diet and not eating healthy food,” explains Dr Meena Umachander, Deputy Director at the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Chennai.
Apart from the risk of repeated abortions, without any prenatal care, having babies during adolescence has severe consequences not just on the health of the girl but also on her infant. Studies done in various pockets in the country have shown an increased incidence of low birth weight (less than 2.5 kg) babies and premature deliveries are also more among teenage mothers. “Pregnancy and childbirth itself is stressful. It needs a lot of physical stamina and good mental health. There will be more instrumental deliveries than normal,” informs Dr Kritika Devi, Consultant Gynaecologist, Nova Specialty Hospital. “The pelvic region of an under-age girl is not developed enough to handle delivery. So, it’ll be instrumental delivery or C-Section,” Dr Umachander says.
The WHO points out that in many low and middle-income countries, complications arising from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls aged between 15 and 19 years. Also, stillbirths and newborn deaths are 50 per cent higher among those born to adolescent mothers than to mothers aged between 20 and 29 years.
The teen mothers would also face a lack of ability to bond with the baby and this can in turn result in failure to breastfeed the baby, which is one of the most important nutritional requirements for a newborn child, doctors say.