Early Marriage Among Indian Women Linked to Poor Reproductive Health and Spousal Violence

A new study by researchers from the Population Council, New Delhi, and the International Institute for Population Sciences in Mumbai, which looked at the effect of early marriage among young Indian women found a range of negative associations that compromised their overall lives and reproductive health. K.G. Santhya and colleagues used data on Indian women aged 20–24 from a large-scale survey conducted in urban and rural areas of five states where early marriage is widespread: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. They found that nearly 63% of these women had married when they were younger than 18, the minimum legal age for marriage in India.

Compared with young women who had married at age 18 or older, those who had married earlier were less likely to have been involved in planning their marriage: For example, only about one-third of those who had married early reported that their parents had sought their approval of the spouse chosen for them, while nearly two-thirds of the women who married later had been consulted. Furthermore, those who had married early were less likely to consider wife-beating unjustifiable and more likely to have experienced physical or sexual violence perpetrated by their husband. According to the authors, these findings support the view that early marriage places young women at higher risk of experiencing physical and sexual violence in their marriage.

In addition, the authors found that women who married early were more likely to have had a miscarriage or a stillbirth and less likely to have used a contraceptive method to delay their first pregnancy or to have delivered their first child in a health facility. The researchers believe that not giving birth in a health facility is partially attributable to a lack of knowledge about sexual and reproductive health in the families of women who marry early and among the women themselves.

The authors conclude that the findings underscore the need to build community support for delaying marriage and for improved enforcement of existing laws barring early marriage. School, health and other authorities also need to be more supportive of young women in negotiating with their parents to delay marriage. Finally, they recommend improving and expanding programs that support newly wed young women–whose needs may differ from those of their adult counterparts—in exercising greater control over their lives.

The study, "Associations Between Early Marriage and Young Women's Marital and Reproductive Health Outcomes: Evidence from India," appears in the September 2010 issue of International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

Also in this issue of International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health:

"The Role of Social Support and Parity on Contraceptive Use in Cambodia," by Ghazaleh Samandari of the University of North Carolina et al.;

"Self-Reported Abortion-Related Morbidity: A Comparison of Measures in Madhya Pradesh, India," by Laura Nyblade of the International Center for Research on Women et al.;

"Introducing Female Condoms to Female Sex Workers in Central America," by Natasha Mack of Family Health International, et al.;

Viewpoint, "Masturbation: Breaking the Silence," by James Shelton.