Did you know 4.5 million Indian teens were pregnant or had kids in 2015-16?

Education only game-changer: Lack of education is both a risk factor and an outcome of child marriage
AP file image of a child bride used for representational purpose only
AP file image of a child bride used for representational purpose only

When you think of child marriage, you think poverty, illiteracy and rural India. But what if education could change this and reduce the number of young brides, the number for which India ranks highest globally

Over 13 million adolescent girls between 10 and 19 years were married in India in 2011, according to census data. Be that as it may, an analysis by Child Rights and You (CRY), a Mumbai-based child rights non-profit, found that fewer literate women were married as children compared to those who were not literate. Also, fewer literate women who were married off early had children at a young age than illiterate women.

This leads to the inference that more education leads to fewer child brides. The number of child brides and mothers has not improved substantially from 2011. In 2015-2016, an estimated 4.5 million girls between the age of 15 and 16 years were pregnant or had already become mothers, according to data from the National Family Health Survey 4 (NFHS 4).

Risks: Young moms

Early childbearing also increases the risk of childbirth complications such as obstetric fistula (a condition which causes a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder that is caused by prolonged obstructed labour, leaving a woman without control of urine or faeces or both, called incontinence), a common occurrence for young girls who give birth before their bodies are physically mature and causes chronic incontinence, often resulting in, among other things, social exclusion, according to a 2014 report on women empowerment by the World Bank

Becoming a child bride initiates a process for the girl where societal pressure, expectations and the responsibilities she is supposed to shoulder in her new role could make her lose focus from education and eventually drop out of school.

She is also at the risk of facing violence, abuse and exposure to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and is also exposed to underage motherhood as adolescents.

Adolescent pregnancy can lead to several health problems: anaemia, malaria, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, postpartum haemorrhage and mental disorders, according to World Health Organization (WHO).

In 2011, about 3.8 million adolescent girls in India had children. Of these, 1.4 million have two or more children, even before completing adolescence, data show. But education could delay pregnancy. As many as 39 per cent of girls who were illiterate had begun child bearing, compared to 26 per cent of those who were literate, data show.

In West Bengal, for instance, in 2011, among married adolescent girls (1.35 million), aged between 10-19 years, more than 50 per cent of the girls who were illiterate had reached motherhood, compared to 37 per cent of the girls who were literate.

“Lack of education is both a risk factor and an outcome of child marriage,” as highlighted by a 2014 study, and subsequently quoted by the authors of a 2015 paper titled “Child Marriage: A Critical Barrier to Girls’ Schooling and Gender Equality in Education”.


Mother o f 4 kids before 19 – 65% increase in 15 years

There has been a 65 per cent rise from 2001 in the number of married girls aged between 15 and 19 who have given birth to four children. The number increased from 170,000 in 2001 to 280,000, IndiaSpend reported in May 2016

“Across 18 of the 20 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage, girls with no education were up to six times more likely to marry than girls with a secondary education,” the study said, using research from the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW).

“Child marriage virtually puts an end to a girl’s education” according to a 2011 report on solutions to end child marriage by ICRW.

The greater the duration of a girl’s education, the lower the chances of her getting married early, found a 2002 study on UP. Research suggests that education could even delay a girls’ marriage beyond the legal age, according to a global analysis by ICRW.

Putting an end to child marriage “could entail a cost for households and governments assuming that some of the girls who delay marriage are also able to pursue their education further”, the study noted.

Mothers who are educated, are also healthier mothers; they are better prepared for child birth and motherhood, and are more open to accessing health care facilities and understanding the implications of their health on their children.

For instance, in 2015-2016, more mothers (63 per cent) who had completed at least secondary education had at least four antenatal visits, compared to those who had no education (28 per cent) or had completed only primary education (45 per cent), according to NFHS 4 data.

21% of child marriages happen in 70 districts in India

Seventy districts of 13 states have reported high incidence of underage marriages, which account for 21 per cent of the country’s child marriages

As many as 90 per cent of mothers who had completed secondary education, or more, had institutional births compared to 62 per cent of those who were illiterate, data show.

Further, higher the level of education of mothers, better are the health outcomes of their children. More children get access to full immunisation if their mothers are educated. In 2015-2016, 67 per cent of children whose mothers completed secondary education received a full course of immunisation versus 52 per cent of those with illiterate mothers, according to NFHS data.

Stunting, or low height for age, is more common in children whose mothers had no education (51 per cent) than those whose mothers had completed secondary school or more (31 per cent). 

(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org)

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