Why should the public health community care about child, early and forced marriage (CEFM)? As you might imagine, CEFM can be linked to a range of health challenges, like pregnancy and childbirth complications or increased risk of HIV infection. So, if the links are easy to identify, why does CEFM rarely come up in public health discourse? Why do strategies to address CEFM mostly fall outside of the health sector?
Part of the issue, according to a new study by Sama Resource Group for Women and Health, is a lack of information. After reviewing literature, data, programs and polices focused on early and child marriage in India, Sama researchers identified several gaps in data regarding:
- Access and availability of health care facilities and services disaggregated by age and marital status
- Critical groups, such as children younger than 15, young people with disabilities and other socially marginalized groups
- The impact of marriage on mental health
- Early marriage estimates disaggregated by sex, age and other important factors
Sama researchers point to a need for research that better explores and addresses the connections between marriage—especially early and nonconsensual marriage—on health outcomes. The Sama researchers also call for research on the vulnerability of young girls in marital relationships, including a gendered analysis of unequal power dynamics within marriage. Critical insights from this research could lead to the development, implementation and evaluation of multi-pronged solutions that address health outcomes, while also looking at root causes of early and child marriage such as gender inequality.
If you would like to learn more about the report, read the summary or contact Sama Resource Group for Women and Health for the full report. While this research was preliminary, Sama is currently engaged in more in-depth research on the overlap between early and child marriage and mental health outcomes.
Margo Mullinax is the Associate Director for Strategic Learning, Research and Evaluation at AJWS.