India: Pregnancy and Malnutrition Pose Grave Health Risks for Child Brides
Wednesday, April 4, 2012 10:25 AM

Despite being illegal under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006, over 37 percent of girls in Odisha, a state in Eastern India, marry before they are 18 according to UNICEF’s 2012 State of the World's Children report. Early marriage has serious repercussions particularly on the health of young women explained,” Shairose Mawji, the chief of UNICEF Odisha. Child brides face a greater risk of complications during pregnancy including fistulas – tears in the genital tract. They are also twice as likely to have unwanted pregnancies, more likely to have an abortion, and over six times as likely to seek sterilization compared to women married after age 18, according to The Lancet medical journal. Moreover, young mothers and their children suffer much higher mortality rates. Anuj Padhi, a doctor based in Malkangiri, explained that “…a girl giving birth at 15 is five times more likely to die in the process of giving birth than a girl of 19 or older, and her infant is 60 percent more likely to succumb as well.”
Severe malnutrition further endangers the health of young women and girls, who typically eat last in the household. Nishi Kant Kar, the Chief District Medical Officer of Koraput, explained, “the general recommendation as far as caloric intake is concerned is that women need about 1750 to 2000 calories per day…It is advisable for expectant mothers to consume 300 extra calories per day, while lactating mothers require about 550 [additional] calories…But the average tribal woman consumes less than a 1000 calories per day whether or not she is pregnant or feeding her baby. This leads to severe anemia and other complications.”
According to Sanjit Patnaik, director of the South Orissa Voluntary Action (SOVA), ending child marriage is extremely challenging because even parents who are aware of its negative impacts find it too difficult to resist the economic and social pressures. He explains that the best way to address the harmful practice of child marriage is to educate and empower women.