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Child marriages on the rise

2013 Aug 15

A UNICEF commissioned report says there is an increase in child marriages in Sri Lanka.

UNICEF commissioned a qualitative inquiry to better understand why children were marrying young and what could be done about it.

The inquiry was based on a 2009 desk review, which suggested that early marriage and statutory rape might be on the increase in Sri Lanka, particularly in less developed districts.

This findings concerned UNICEF, not only because early marriage limits opportunities for girls to complete their education, but also because it is often associated with adverse health outcomes, including risks to both mother and child during pregnancy and childbirth, under-nutrition and late physical and cognitive development amongst infants.

Child brides are also at a higher risk of violence, abuse and exploitation, UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka Reza Hossaini said.

The qualitative inquiry, based on an analysis of 71 case studies, reveals that child marriages (in the selected districts) are most often, a product of teenage sexuality, and do not appear to be linked to customary or forced marriages, or to families marrying off their daughters at an early age to reduce their economic burden.

For instance, of the 71 girls interviewed, 21 girls (30%) were pregnant before they turned 18. This is 20% higher than the national average.

Amongst the key recommendations of the study is the introduction of age-appropriate and effective teenage reproductive health services and information, an awareness campaign around the impact of early marriage and the revision of laws related to forced marriage and teenage pregnancy.

UNICEF hopes that the findings and recommendations will enable policy makers and activists to take action where required to ensure that all young men and women in the country understand reproductive health, the impact of early marriage and are able to make informed choices that benefit them and society at large. (Colombo Gazette)

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