Medical experts have linked child marriages with increased prevalence of mental illnesses affecting the child bride, the family and the children of the child bride.
Speaking recently at the Ordinary General Meeting of the Association of Resident Doctors, Federal Neuro-Psychiatry Hospital (FNSH), Yaba, Lagos, with the theme: The Child Bride and the Mental Health Consequences; the Chairman of the Lagos State Health Service Commission, Dr Bayo Aderiye has said that child-bride is most rampant in the third world and developing countries.
Aderiye said, statistics from UNFPA and UNICEF demographic studies of 2015 show that, Nigeria lies at number 14 of the first 20 countries with the highest practice of child bride behind Niger, CAR, Chad, Bangladesh, Mali, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Malawi, Mozambique, India, Zimbabwe and Somalia.
“However, it is notorious and worrisome fact that when one talks in absolute figures, Nigeria ranks as number 3 in the world and number one in Africa with child bride prevalence rate of 40 per cent which amounts to 1,193,000 young women of between ages 20 to 24 years who got married before the age of 18 years.
“This is a problem that has long been ignored. In other parts of the world, the situation is not as bad as in Nigeria except in South Asia which includes India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal etc where it is 50%. Others are as follows: 10% in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 16% in East Asia and the Pacific, 20% in Middle East and North Africa. 33% in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is a region that is inexorably trying to catch up and possibly surpass Nigeria because according to statistics, there has been no decline in the last 30 years.”
According to him, 15 million girls worldwide are married before the age 18 annually. “That is 28 girls are married off every minute too soon, thus endangering their personal development and well-being. With more young people on our planet now than ever before, child marriage is gradually becoming humongous human rights violation that must be ended in order to achieve a fairer future for all.
“Child brides are often disempowered, dependent on their husbands and deprived of their fundamental human rights to health, education and safety. Neither physically nor emotionally ready to become mothers and wives, child brides are at greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications of pregnancy and childbirth, with a high possibility of being infected with HIV/AIDS as well as suffering domestic violence. With little or no access to education and economic opportunities, they and their families are often more likely to live in poverty.”
The hospital’s ARD President, Dr Kenneth Uwajeh said the theme of the OGM is a contemporary issue, “and we desire mental health advocacy, in the bid to get the notice of the public and to enlighten them on the implications of such practices. It reveals the pertinence of psychiatry, to every day life.”
Speaking with Daily Times on the mental consequences of child bride, the acting Medical Director, FNPH, Dr Richard Adebayo said, often child-brides go through physical and psychological problems.
“Often times, we think the problem is basically Vesico-Vaginal Fistula (VVF) but these children have no parental skills and are supposed to be under their parents and should be protected because a lot of them are frustrated and become depressed in life.”
He said, “subjecting children to marriage is criminal. We’ve heard of a child who ran to her parents and the parents chased her away. When some of them are pushed to the wall, they can commit suicide.”
Highlighting the psychiatric and societal problems associated with child bride and child labor, a specialist in Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Dr Grace Ijarogbe said, it can be distressing for a child to leave her home at the age below 18.
“Most of them are just getting accustomed to their family, when they are joined into a strange family, it becomes distressing. A lot of child brides are afraid of their spouse, dominated in their environment and when you bend these children to the new family’s will, everything about their emotions is changed and this can me demoralising.”
Continuing, she said, “a lot of children who go into labour die. They never get to go to school or acquire a skill, they are dependent on their violators.”
Dr Aderiye said, all affected countries of the world also feel the impact because any system that devalues the contribution of her young women limits its own possibilities.
“In this way, child marriage drains such countries of the innovation and potentials that would enable them grow,” he said.
However, the experts say, everybody has to take up the responsibility of seeing every child as theirs and called on the government to put policies in place to ensure that the rights of the children are protected.
FACTS ON CHILD BRIDE
More than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. This is 10% of the world’s population.
If nothing is done drastically now, an additional 1.2 billion girls will be married by 2050.
Some child brides are as young as 8 or 9 years.
Pregnancy and childbirth complications are among the leading causes of death in girls aged between 15 and 19 in low and middle income countries.