“O how blessed it would be never to marry, or grow old; but to spend one’s life innocently and indifferently among the trees and rivers which alone can keep one cool and childlike in the midst of the troubles of the world!”
It’s a very soothing and homelike feeling remembering one’s childhood memories, especially the happy ones, feels like a warm hug indeed. Childhood experiences play a major role when it comes to an individuals mental health because it’s the growth that shapes the individual. We live in a world where many laws are made and organizations are formed dedicated to various causes and child protection is one of them. One of the major malpractices that go against the laws made in order to protect the children is ‘Child Marriage’.
According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF),
“Child marriage refers to any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child.” https://www.unicef.org/protection/child-marriage With strict laws in place against the practice of child marriage, one can’t deny the fact that these practices are still performed and are a very significant part of the societies around the world, altering the lives of children in an unhealthy manner and having a strong impact on their mental health. An individual’s mental health comprises of emotional, psychological and social well-being. As children we don’t understand much about these factors but are highly affected by them. Imagine being told that from tomorrow onwards you are going to live with a new family forever, and call their place home, do chores cook, clean and do as they say or being told that from tomorrow on you’ll have a new person in your life a partner you will have to live with. One might definitely get uncomfortable at the mere sound of it, as a matter of fact it’s a sad reality for many children around the world who fall bait to the practice of child marriage.
Psychological well-being of an individual can be broken down into the following factors:
- Depressed Mood
- Positive well-being
- General Health
When it comes to child marriage the most common factor that adversely effect mental health are as follows:
- Unfamiliar environment
- Sexual Abuse
- Socio-economic status
- Child Bearing
- Child Rearing
- Gender inequality
- Incomplete Education
According to a study on ‘Psychological impact Evaluation of early marriage’, published in International Journal of endorsing health science research, “Early marriage, multiple responsibilities and early pregnancies are risk factors of depression and it is further evaluated that married girls are at higher level when compared with unmarried.” https://www.icrw.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/ICRW_EICMResearchBrief_v4.pdf
Studies like the one mentioned above list out certain major mental health issues that a child might develop as a result of child marriage, these factor may vary in intensity from person to person but the effects are seen to be long-term and present in adulthood as well. With the data available on child marriage and its effects on mental health the negative effects of the child marriage are seen in much more prevalence within the girl child. “Girls married as children are at increased risk for depression and suicidality, especially due to it’s indirect linkages with exposed to gender violence.” ( Raj, Saggurti, Balaiah & Silverman, 2009; Raj Gomez & Silverman, 2008)
Child marriages lead to mental health issues such as:
- Emotional and mental distress
- Suicidal thoughts
- Suicidal tendency
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Other issues might include:
- Lack of companionship
- Poor decision-making skills
Quite often these issues are ignored by the elders around the child or overshadowed by new and overwhelming responsibilities given to the child making it hard for the child to lead a good quality life. The impact of child marriage is observed more on the girl child as the situational changes affect her the most, but the mental health of the boy child is also seen to be impacted by child marriage, according to the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) https://promundoglobal.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Engaging-Men-and-Boys-to-End-the-Practice-of-Child-Marriage1.pdf, the norms of gender roles and expectations from the boy child as accord to the child marriage play significant role in impacting their mental health negatively. Forced child marriage on the boy child can be a major cause for unhealthy aggression causing violent behaviour making the girl child fall prey to physical as well as sexual violence.
The environment in which the child is playing a very important role in shaping the personality of the child and falling a victim to the practice of child marriage due to a number of unhealthy factors around them are affected in a very negative manner mentally, the effect is long-term and the impact of the child marriage within the individual is relatively permanent. Factors like behaviour of the in-laws, spouse relatives, economic status, educational qualification, freedom of choice, living standard, treatment of the child and many more play a very significant role in impacting the mental health of the child, the practice is brutal and snatches a fair chance for healthy growth of the individual developing feelings of remorse, guilt, fear etc within the child. Studies and researches done with respect to this area shed a light on the reality of child marriage and it’s impact on mental health, long-term effects tend to be a stamp on the child’s life, it’s essential to generate awareness regarding this and help people understand what a child goes through (mentally) when fallen prey to practices such as that of child marriage.
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