India is one among the poor countries like Nigeria, Ethopia and Yemen where 40 per cent of girls are married off by the age of 18 years, thus exposing them to early, unwanted sexual activity, early pregnancy, reproductive tract infections (RTIs) and deadly diseases such as HIV.
According to a recent joint report by WHO and UNFPA, Married adolescent: no place for safety, although early marriage is declining around the world, 100 million girls will marry before their 18th birthday over the next 10 years. In Bangladesh, Burkina Faso and Chad, 60 per cent or more of girls are married by the age of 18 while it is 50 per cent or more in Mozambique and Nepal, Ghana, Gutemala and Indonesia are comparatively better with 30 per cent or more of girls are married by the age of 18.
Due to early marriages, in India, infection rates are rising fastest among married women, who accounted for 40 per cent of all new infection cases in 2002, says the report that notes how, in many countries, the time gap between getting married and having the first baby is declining. It outlines the risks of too early pregnancy and explores the reasons why families and communities feel under pressure to continue the practice of marrying off their daughters while they are still in their adolescents stage.
The largest falls in early marriage have been in West Africa, East and Southern Africa, South and South-East Asia and Western Asia (Middle East). In some countries the decline has been rapid. In Bangladesh, the percentage of girls married by 18 years fell from almost 90 per cent to 65 per cent in 20 years. In Ethiopia, it fell from 79 per cent to 49 per cent, in Nepal from 70 per cent to 55 per cent and in Nigeria from 55 per cent to 40 per cent, as per the report.
Early marriages have taken a toll on women’s health too. More than half of pregnant women are anemic, with much higher rates in developing countries — 86 per cent in United Republic of Tanzania, 88 per cent in India and 94 per cent in Papua New Guinea, it added.
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