|© UNICEF/HQ07-1493/Anita Khemka|
The empowerment of girls and women has a direct impact on maternal and child health. Education can lower the exposure of girls and women to maternity risks. For example, research shows that educated adolescents are more likely to wait until after their teenage years to start families. This is critical, especially since complications from pregnancy and childbirth are an important cause of mortality for girls aged 15–19 worldwide. Aside from delaying pregnancy, educated mothers are also more likely to immunize their children and be better informed about nutrition. Their children tend to have better nutrition and better chances for survival.
Child marriage is a violation of rights according to international conventions and many national laws. It can deprive girls of their opportunities to go to school and lead to pregnancies at younger ages. The younger a girl is when she becomes pregnant, the greater the health risks for herself and her baby. In fact, girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties. Furthermore, if a mother is younger than 18, her child’s risk of dying before reaching age one is 60 per cent greater than that of an infant born to a mother older than 19. If the child survives, he or she may suffer from low birthweight, undernutrition, and late physical and cognitive development.
Although child marriage is becoming less common overall, this change is happening slowly. Action is needed on the part of governments, religious and community leaders and other parties and the promotion of education, particularly at the secondary level.