Prevalence of child marriage in India fuels pregnancy, fertility risks

March 10th, 2009 - 11:49 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 10 (IANS) Economic and educational reforms in India have not dented the prevalence of child marriages, fuelling risks of multiple unwanted pregnancies, their termination and sterilisations, according to a new study led by an Indian American.
Anita Raj, associate professor of social and Behavioral sciences at Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) and her colleagues found that nearly half of adult Indian women aged 20 to 24 married before the legal age of 18.

These child marriages were significantly associated with poor fertility outcomes, such as unwanted and terminated pregnancies, repeat childbirths in less than 24 months, and increased sterilisation rates.

“These results suggest that neither recent progress in economic and women’s development, nor existing policy or programmatic efforts to prevent child marriage and promote maternal and child health, have been sufficient to reduce the prevalence of child marriage in India to that of most other developing nations,” wrote Raj and colleagues.

The study found that 44.5 percent of women aged 22 to 24 were married before age 18. More than one in five - 22.6 percent - were married before age 16, while 2.6 percent were married before age 13.

India raised the legal age for marriage to 18 in 1978. In the past 15 years, national policy efforts have been developed to increase educational and economic opportunities for girls and women, reduce child marriage and expand family-planning support.

The authors said that while there had been a slight reduction - five percent - in the rate of child marriage compared with national data from 1998-99, the continued prevalence of the practice and its association with poor fertility outcomes highlights “the crucial need for increased family-planning interventions tailored to married adolescents”.

The study found that women who married younger than 18 were significantly more likely to report no contraceptive use before their first childbirth than were those who married as adults.

Nearly half - 48.4 percent - of women who were married as children reported giving birth before they turned 18. Women married as children also were more likely to have had repeat childbirths in less than 24 months and to have had three or more childbirths, than those married as adults.

Child marriage also was associated with an increased prevalence of unwanted pregnancies and an increased prevalence of pregnancy termination, defined as miscarriage, abortion or stillbirth, said a Boston University release.

The study found sterilisation rates were higher for women married as children than for those married as adults - 19.5 percent, compared to 4.6 percent. Overall, more than one in eight women, or 13.4 percent, had been sterilised. Of those not sterilised, more than three-quarters reported no present contraception use, the research found.

The study was published online in The Lancet and will be printed in an upcoming issue.

Anita Raj, who did her M.Sc and PhD, from the University of Georgia, is a developmental psychologist with 15 years of experience in conducting research on sexual and reproductive health, HIV, STD, gender-based violence, substance misuse and abuse.

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