| NEW YORK
NEW YORK May 15 (Reuters Health) - Fewer girls under 14 are
getting married in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, with
sizable declines seen in each nation, according to a study
released on Tuesday that suggests positive health gains for
young women in South Asia.
In Bangladesh, for example, about 34 percent of women
reported being married by age 14 in 1991 and 1994. By 2005 and
2007 that number had fallen to about 19 percent.
At the same time, marriage rates for girls aged 16 to 17
stayed about the same, except for an increase of about 36
percent in Bangladesh - a country where marriage for girls under
18 is generally more common.
"The decrease for the youngest age group is dramatic, but
for the oldest, we've got nothing," said Anita Raj, the study's
lead author and a professor at the University of California, San
Diego School of Medicine.
Raj and her colleagues reported the findings in a letter to
the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
For their study, the researchers analyzed surveys taken from
1991 to 2007 in the four countries. For marriage rates, they
looked at whether 20- to 24-year-old women reported being
married before their 18th birthday.
In India, the marriage rate for girls younger than 14
dropped from about 10 percent in 1991-1994 to about 6 percent in
2005-2007. Pakistan saw the rate for girls under 14 fall from
about 6 percent to a little less than 3 percent over the same
Raj told Reuters Health that the declines may be explained
by more encouragement for girls to complete their education
before marriage. Students in those countries typically graduate
from high school at the age of 15 or 16.
Bangladesh, India and Nepal all ban marriage before the age
of 18, while Pakistan's minimum age is 16. But Raj said those
laws are largely ignored, especially in rural areas.
Marrying too young is an issue because it is associated with
many health concerns, including complications from pregnancy and
Teen mothers are at a higher risk for pregnancy-induced high
blood pressure and delivering babies before 37 weeks and with
low birth weights, said Monica Johnson, a women's health nurse
practitioner at the Barnes-Jewish Hospital's teen pregnancy
center in St. Louis.
Teens are also at risk for postpartum depression, Johnson
told Reuters Health. She added that "with adequate prenatal care
and emotional support a lot of those teen moms do not experience
In a previous article, however, Raj reported that the
poorest and least-educated girls are at the greatest risk for an
early marriage. That may limit access to healthcare.
Raj and her colleagues focused on South Asia mostly because
of the amount and quality of data available, but she said that
early marriage should not be seen as a problem exclusive to that
A 2011 report from UNICEF reported that adolescent marriage
is also common in sub-Saharan Africa. It said that the
psychosocial effects girls experience are enormous, including
not having friends, being powerless and doing an excessive
amount of housework.
Raj told Reuters Health that one way to reduce marriage
among young girls may be to increase the number of choices they
have, such as providing access to schools or jobs.
(Editing by Michele Gershberg and Eric Walsh)