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The Bleak Mental Health of a Child Bride » Women's Courage

The Bleak Mental Health of a Child Bride

January 31st, 2013 by cjtaub Leave a reply »

Let me tell you the story of a girl. We will name her Ana. Ana is married at 13 to a man who is 22. She leaves her family to live with her husband. She stops attending school and never sees her friends. Her husband forces her to have sex at 13 years old. She doesn’t know what is going on but she knows it hurts and that she doesn’t like it. They don’t use protection and she becomes pregnant. During her pregnancy, her husband’s parents beat her. During labor, she develops a fistula and is labor for three days until she almost bleeds out while giving birth. Her baby is a girl and her baby is taken from her and killed. Try to imagine Ana having good mental health. It is impossible to do, at least it is for me. Ana’s is a tragic story but it is not a unique story. Far too many girls around the world share a story all too similar to Ana’s. They are plagued with mental illness as a result of having been forced to marry as a child and it is debilitating to their health and happiness.

Fifty-one million girls worldwide are child brides. Twenty-five thousand girls under the age of 18 are married everyday. Many of these girls are married to men who are significantly older. Many of these girls are under the age of five. Their psychological health suffers because they are denied a normal childhood period where crucial development typically occurs and are faced with adult issues as children, when they are not mentally equipped to handle them yet. Child brides lose their virginity at a very young age, usually forcibly, before they are emotionally ready. Girls who marry young, typically have children young. Most child brides become mothers while they are still children themselves, not physically or mentally ready to bear a child. Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth. Girls know how common complications are in childbirth and this can cause extreme anxiety for them. Child brides are often punished for having female children or subjected to unsafe abortions if it is found out they are carrying a girl. Some child brides are forced to murder their female children after they are born by smothering or poisoning them. Child brides are more likely to experience domestic abuse than women who marry later. Child brides are often forced into prostitution and beaten with they object.

Child marriage is a trigger of many mental illnesses due to the list of stresses above. The violence and related health issues can trigger post traumatic stress disorder. Depression is also common because the girls feel they have no control over their own life and are isolated from their family and peers at a young age. Child marriage denies girls the opportunity to make choice central to their lives. Choices define us and allow us to realize who we are and what we can be. The family pressure and sexual coercion associated with child marriage can cause extreme anxiety along with other mental issues. Fear of marriage and the related sexual experiences can also cause extreme anxiety in girls. Giving birth can trigger anxiety disorders as well because of the fear of fistulas, extended period of labor and death from complications. Child brides commonly have sleep problems stemming from their anxiety and eating problems associated with depression. Mental illness is more common among child brides than women married as adults. It is every person’s human right to physical and mental well-being and the practice of child marriage robs these girls of that right by inflicting mental illness on them.

Child marriage is a deeply rooted social phenomenon in many parts of the world that we need to work to break down but this is going to be difficult and take time. I feel that we need to mediate the harmful psychological effects of child marriage while we are trying to end it. If child brides had an outlet to discuss their emotions, it could give them a way to process their feelings and retain better mental health. Also, giving child brides something they can control in their life to replace the lack of control they feel over their marriage could potential improve their mental health. Effective interventions need to be created and implemented because child marriage is causing a critically high level of mental illness in girls around the world.









  1. wendy says:

    Hi Chloe,

    This is an incredibly touching, well-presented, and informative post! Often, it is the personal stories rather than the numbers that strike the strongest and most resounding chord.

    Throughout the literature from this class, a majority of them present a certain physical issue women face internationally and because mental illness is often perceived as less of an immediate concern in light of rape, starvation, FGM, illiteracy, etc. such illness is often forgotten and not discussed. I appreciate that you are bring this to light because mental illness is very much a major hurdle as well as a critical issue when it comes to international women’s health. When thinking about interventions and how to approach addressing issues such as child marriage, it is necessary also to consider mental health because such illnesses does manifest themselves in physical/biological problems. Also, because child marriage is such a deeply rooted social phenomenon and, thus, will take a long time to change, interventions do need to consider the shorter term efforts; how can we help the girls/women in this situation right now who can’t get out? How can we make their lives better and empower them to go on? I look forward to reading more about your exploration into mental health of women around the world!


  2. Michelle says:

    Chloe, thanks for an eye-opening piece. I never thought that the number of child-brides would be so high– 25 million is appalling! I think it would be interesting to see the number of child-brides in wealthy families versus poor families in he regions where they are highly concentrated. Then, you would be able to have a better idea of how much tradition and economic gains weight into the decision for families to give their children away for marriage. Also, I think that we find he situation so appalling because our culture emphasizes family ties and attachment, and maybe in the cultures that promote child marriage familial relationships aren’t as valued.

  3. KadesiaW says:

    Wow. Chloe I agree with all of the previous comments; this is a very interesting topic to explore. Every time I hear about child brides my mind instantly thinks of a photo essay that was shared in my PWR2 class (Rhetoric of Political Photography with Paul Bator). I wouldn’t even know where to begin in establishing the mental health and well-being of a child bride, especially after several years of marriage? I can imagine interventions that deal with domestic violence and marital rape are hard enough with adult women, but how do you possibly discuss such “adult” issues with someone not considered an adult by any society? That has to be tough. I wonder what impact the transition from the maternal family to in-laws plays on the mental health of child brides, especially when in-laws are abusive. Here’s the link for the photo essay if you are interest: http://www.viiphoto.com/showstory.php?nID=712

  4. Carmen says:

    Hi Chloe, I really like how you opened the topic with the story of a individual girl. It brings to light that there are multiple devastating life events that affect girls at a very young age. From living in poverty and being married at a young age to developing birth complications and living in an abusive environment, girls are born in a cycle of poverty and that cycle is perpetuated as each new generation is born. It would be interesting to see what types of interventions already exist to address the mental health of young girls. Perhaps a weekly group in which women share their stories and provide support to other women in similar situations can provide support and emotional guidance.

  5. Christina says:

    Hi Chloe, this is a really interesting topic! I am curious to learn whether there are any non-profits that specifically focus on child brides and mental health. The poor mental health of child brides is a huge problem and it seems as though it negatively effects their lives, but also the lives of their children. Like Kori, I like how you used the story Ana to really put a name and a face to what you are writing about. Where did you read about her story? It seems as though a lot of times, there aren’t specific stories available on the internet about women facing these kinds of problems.

  6. kori says:

    Hi Chloe, I really love how you used an individual girl to tell the story of so many victims. I think often people spew out statistics instead of trying to personify the issue as you have. I agree that the stresses of early marriage can do serious damage for child brides (the 1st year of marriage is difficult for happy newlyweds in America) and that interventions must be made to help them cope mentally.

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