Currently around 7% of Pakistan’s population (i.e. roughly 10 million) constitutes underage girls between the ages of 15 to 19 years. Of these 15% (or 1.5 million) are married. Once marriage occurs, these mere children are likely to give birth to their own child within the first year of the nuptials. And so, often without realizing, every year we put the lives of hundreds of thousands of little girls at great risk.
How does an early marriage risk a teenage girl’s life?
Her body is not ready to bear a child!
It is well known that pregnancies are difficult for teenage girls. Many of these girls are still growing and their bodies need the nutrients that are often scarce in poor households for this growth. The moment a teenage girl becomes pregnant a competition between her and the foetus begins inside her body. This inevitably results in poor nutrition for both the mother and her unborn child.
Additionally, because the bodies of these little girls are often not fully grown and their pelvis bones are narrow, it obstructs the passage of a baby at delivery putting both the mother and the unborn child at risk.
She has no control over repeated pregnancies
It goes without saying that children are much less likely to be assertive than adults. Thus, when a teenage girl is married, she has little to no say in terms of contraceptive use. For instance, a study showed that between 2000 – 2008, only 15% of the married girls aged 15-19 years in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa used contraception to space their pregnancies.
Thus, most young girls who are married off as children are forced into repeated, un-spaced pregnancies.
This puts a lot of stress on the mother’s developing body, often resulting in a severe form of anaemia (i.e. shortage of red blood cells in the body). The fact that these already weak young mothers constantly have to share their meager nutrients with their foetus during repeated pregnancies only deteriorates their health further.
She’s at risk of preeclampsia
Teenage pregnancies are also associated with higher levels of hypertension and preeclampsia, which puts both the young mother and her unborn child at great risk.
The odds of survival are against her and her unborn child
For these reasons, teenage mothers are twice as likely to die from pregnancy and birth related issues compared to those girls who bear children between the ages of 20 – 29 years.
Similarly, children born to teenage mothers are 50% more likely to either be stillborn (dead at birth) or to die within a few weeks after birth.
There is also a strong link between adolescent pregnancies and low birth weight of the child, and low weight is one of the largest contributors of infant mortality worldwide.
Maternal mortality statistics in Pakistan for teenage girls?
In Pakistan, perinatal mortality for mothers under 20 years of age is almost 200 per every 1000 births, whereas neonatal mortality is around 80 per every 1000 births. These rates are 2-3 times higher than for mothers that are 20 to 29 years of age.
How can we all help?
In the face of such staggering evidence that clearly indicates the unnecessary risk that early marriages and teenage pregnancies pose to the lives of our little girls, why do we continue to throw them in harm’s way?
As Muslims, we believe that a girl-child is rehmat (mercy). Yet, in our hurry to do away with our daughters, we willingly put their health, welfare and even their lives at risk. How is this not disrespect for Allah’s rehmat that He sends our way in the form of daughters?
It is time that we challenge cultural norms that treat girls as a burden and educate people around us on the huge disfavor that they do to their girl-child when they marry her off at a tender age.
It is equally important to demand from the government and lawmakers to raise the minimum age of marriage for girls from 16 to 18 years in Pakistan.
Consider this article a plea to respect the right of every little girl to have a healthy and happy childhood. Please play your part to raise awareness.