What is Child Marriage?
Child Marriage is a marriage of a girl or boy before the age of 18 and refers to both formal marriages and informal unions in which children under the age of 18 live with a partner as if married. In India, it is usually observed that girls fall prey or are forced to get married before 18 either to a boy of the same age or many times to a man who is much older to her. It is estimated that around 1.5 million children, especially girls get married under the age of 18 in India every year. But nevertheless, it is observed that there has been a decline in the percentage of child marriages from 47% to 27% in the last decade. Child marriage is a strong social norm developed due to the deep-rooted belief of gender equality. It usually occurs due to social pressure or economic crisis.
Reasons of Child Marriage-
- Child marriage could be a result of social or economic influence but it also involves other facets like poverty, socially suppressing the family of the girl, to avoid further education of the girl, to obey the cultural norms. Sometimes marriage of an underage girl happens to provide the family with an heir or to be a tool of satisfaction (physical and social) for a man. One of the most important reasons for child marriage could be an inadequate implementation of the law.
- Lastly, as discussed earlier patriarchy and gender disparity plays a very important role in imbibing this malpractice in society. In India, as seen socially women have been a victim to constant violence, torture and have been looked down due to which their child marriage has become a widespread practice, resulting in women health issues both physical and psychological.
Problems allied to child marriage
- Child marriages usually take place around adolescence when there are many changes occurring in the body, maturation of internal organs, as well as changes in cognition, happens around this time. Marriages happening during this period creates a burden on the child about many responsibilities such as that of the family, partner and social role at large. This results in problems like physical stress and other diseases like diabetes, hypertension, etc. in the latter part of their life.
- Also, child marriage usually includes problems like domestic violence, sexual as well as emotional assault given to the underlying situation of the family. Adolescence is seen as the period of development of secondary sexual characteristics but it also marks the period where there lies a lot of misconceptions around sex and related topics. And marriage during this age causes much more problems like improper knowledge about safety measures, unwanted pregnancy, maternal health issues, and sexually transmitted diseases, and in some severe cases maternal death as well.
Along with these problems there exists other issues like sexual assault, forced sex, etc. and it results in creating many mental health issues.
Psychological Effects of Child Marriage
- As discussed earlier, child marriages involve teenage individuals and according to their developmental stage, they have ideas or rather hypothetical ideas about the world around them. They always tend to regard themselves as important and unique individuals who are ‘special’. And when marriage happens at such a point then it distorts their cognition and ideas. This results in frustration about their current condition due to their inability to protect self-identity (uniqueness). Also, there is a lot of stress about the responsibilities that come with marriage. This in turn results in depression and anxiety issues. As commonly seen in this age group, frustration becomes a part of their expression causing damage in their interpersonal relations at both family and societal levels.
- Individuals in teenage are very self-conscious i.e. they always feel that they are being observed and hence they need to be presentable. But marriage puts them in a responsible position which they aren’t ready for resulting in confusion about their abilities, creating self-doubt.
- According to psychologist Erikson, children in their teenage face a crisis related to their identity, and this crisis can be resolved when they get exposure towards the world. If they are able to understand and accept themselves the way they are then a positive self-identity is formed, and if that doesn’t happen they remain confused. Marriage in this phase of life doesn’t give them time to understand this cognitive crisis resulting in self-doubt, lack of self-respect, and self-confidence. Following this arrives issues like emotional instability, confusion, irritation, and stress.
- Pregnancy during teenage causes stress about motherhood if the girl is unable to fulfill the duties of a mother it creates trauma & frustration. Post – Partum depression is very common among mothers of this age because there is confusion between their responsibilities and expectations. Teenage mothers expect motherhood to be a soothing and special experience but the reality of nurturing the child doesn’t meet their expectations. Also, the child is given more attention by the family causing stress and depression to the new mother. This overall creates a long term effect on the mental health of the mother.
As discussed earlier, domestic violence and sexual assault cases are high in child marriages which can result in severe mental health issues such as trauma, PTSD, depression, and phobia. The incident of domestic violence/sexual assault is a very traumatizing experience for any individual especially during teenage such incident can cause a very deep impact on the overall self-image. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) could be a very common result of such incidents because it occurred during teenage, which creates a very clear memory about the incident and breaches their hypothetical thought of an ideal world.
Problems Faced by Men
The child marriage of an adolescent boy also creates stress about the overall responsibility that comes after marriage. Some boys have to discontinue their school after marriage which creates a negative impact on the overall development as well as reduces their eligibility for a good job. This results in stress, aggression, frustration, and depression in the later years of their life. The family responsibility has to be taken by the boy after marriage when the boy is unable to fulfill these responsibilities it creates self-doubt resulting in a negative self-image.
Some ray of hope
Child marriages have been a predominant socio-cultural practice for many years and are practiced even today in many remote areas across the country. On the other hand, there has been a substantial decline in the number of child marriages since the last few years due to the increased awareness about the importance of education, enforcement of laws in society.
This results in providing adolescence with an opportunity to form their self-identity, which helps in increasing their self-confidence and self-respect. At the end, it reduces the risk of mental health issues that occur due to child marriage.