Born into misery

Mahfuzul Haque writes about the health complications faced by child brides and the babies they give birth to

new age

new age

Early marriage remains one of the pressing problems in Bangladesh with a large portion of female children getting married before 18 years of age. Besides ruining the lives of these child brides, such marriages also result in serious health complications in the long run due to pregnancies at tender ages.
When these children become pregnant at the tender age, they suffer from various pre and post natal complications, which often affect the health of the children they give birth to.
Swapna was married off when she was 14. After three months of her marriage she conceived, though she had little knowledge on how to take care of herself during pregnancy. Her mother-in-law believed that during this period, pregnant women need to have less food in order to avoid problems during delivery. Due to lack of proper nutrition and as she continued to do household work, Swapna became very weak a few months into her pregnancy.
After the birth of her first child, her health deteriorated further as she could not even breast-feed her child at times. The doctor advised her not to take another child for at least five years. But she again conceived within a year after the first delivery.
Eventually, Swapna gave birth to her second baby, who had a low birth weight. Two days after the delivery, Swapna was attacked by Eclampsia. Despite recovering from the disease, she is still suffering from physical complications. The doctor has given her strict advice not to take another child or she may lose her life.
Swapna’s second child is now two and half-years old and the emaciated child does not know how to walk. ‘I always feel sick and even cannot move properly. The doctor had been concerned after the delivery whether my second child would be able to walk,’ Swapna shares.
According to the statistics of Plan International, a global agency that is working to ensure child rights, some 73 per cent women in Bangladesh get married before they turn 18.
The UN children’s agency, Unicef, also found a similar picture with 65 per cent women in Bangladesh who are married off before the age of 18, as of 2011.
Health experts say that when these children get married at a tender age they have little knowledge about their sexual and reproductive health. They conceive easily and without any particular intention. Also, their bodies are hardly ready for pregnancy leading to serious physical and mental problems for the mothers in the long run.
Eti got married at the age of 13 when she was a seventh grade student. Her father did not let her continue school after facing financial hardship. She was married off to a vegetable vendor in her neighbourhood. Three months into the marriage, she conceived against her will, as her husband wanted a child.
During her pregnancy, Eti suffered from anemia and three days after her delivery, the baby died. The doctor advised her to wait at least four to five years for another child while considering her health. But her husband did not wait. Eti is now in the third trimester of her second pregnancy.
‘Though these girls are married at their early age, their reproductive organs remain immature at the tender age,’ says Dr Nahid Yusuf, a gynecologist and assistant professor of Rajshahi Medical College Hospital.  ‘As a result, the child brides are exposed to various health complications. They often face life threatening problems due to unplanned pregnancy, obstetric complications during childbirth and their children are often malnourished after birth,’ she adds.
Child brides are also exposed to recurrent childbirths, abortions that in turn are detrimental to their health and nutritional status. ‘So the babies of mothers who have a poor nutritional status are at high risk of having babies with low birth weight, stunting and other problems,’ Dr Nahid Yusuf says.
Mahmudul Kabir, country director of terre des homes Netherlands to Bangladesh, an international organization that is working to ensure the rights of children, says that child marriages are impacting the maternal and infant mortality rate in Bangladesh. ‘The government needs to ensure proper health services to these child brides,’ he says.

The names of the child brides have been changed upon their request

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