Young Brides And HIV/AIDS
A Christian humanitarian organization called World Vision has determined that girls who live in developing countries and who become betrothed before the age of 18 have a higher risk for developing HIV/AIDS. Experts predict the number of women who will marry before the age of 18 is expected to double within the next 10 years, bringing the anticipated total to 100 million girls.
In many cases, the girls are unwilling brides who are being forced to engage in sexual intercourse before their bodies are mature and most do not have a source for dependable reproductive health information or access to effective contraception. World Vision's report comments that, "[f]orced sex causes skin and tissue damage that makes a female more susceptible to contracting sexually transmitted infections from her husband."
In addition to this risk for STDs, young brides are subject to other distressing issues as a result of early marriage. For one thing, once a girl is married, it is usual for her to cease her educational studies. Also, women who become pregnant before reaching full maturity are at greater risk for complications of pregnancy, and all too often, an early pregnancy ends in death for the young mother.
The World Vision report states that child marriages are known to occur throughout the world, although they are more frequent in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and in sections of Central America. More families than ever are choosing to marry off their daughters as a means for coping with dwindling finances and the world food crisis. Countries with the highest child bride marriage rates were deemed to be Bangladesh, where up to 53% of all girls are married before the age of 15, then Niger, with a rate of 38%, Chad holding at around 35%, followed by Ethiopia and India at around 31%. The report comments, "It is most prevalent in communities and households where the starkest poverty mixes with cultural traditions and lack of education to limit a girl's perceived value and potential."
World Vision hopes that this report will raise awareness of the issue of child marriage, so the practice might be ended. It is hoped that furthering knowledge of this problem will lead to the creation of community workshops for families at risk, and that schools will include reproductive health information in curriculums. Other important factors for putting an end to this state of affairs are involving faith healers, tribal leaders, and leading community members. Also important is finding a way to bring job security to families and ensuring they have enough food so that daughters will no longer be seen as extra mouths to feed or as bargaining chips for food and money.