Criminalising Unwed Pregnancies but not Child Marriages?

This piece was written by Dr. Daya Nandan, and edited by Doctors on Ground (DnG), upon approval by the writer. To read the original post, head over to this link:

From assisting in deliveries, to the high risk factors that come with child pregnancies — as a medical doctor, I can’t help but feel ashamed when influential people support child marriages.

It was quoted early this year by the Terengganu government that the state will continue to support child marriages because “love is like the ocean”, despite the divorce rates being high among teenage marriages.

In this position of ignorance, it is easy to forget that the impacts of implementing dangerous ideas gets trickled down to public service, where complications of such a terrible idea is managed.

The doctors and nurses — be it the Obstetrics & Gynaecology team, the pediatrician, or the doctors working in primary care — everybody is involved dealing with the case. From a doctor’s perspective, child marriage is dangerous and is accompanied with high risks of low birth weight, premature birth, low iron levels, high blood pressure / pregnancy-induced hypertension — that can lead to preeclampsia. The high rate of infant mortality and early maternal mortality caused by child marriages in the country demonstrates this reality.

A study published on the BMJ reported that complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in young women aged between 15 to 19 in developing countries, and an additional estimated 70,000 adolescent mothers die each year because they have children before they are physically-ready for parenthood. The documentation from UNICEF accompany this statistic with reports that girls marrying before the age of 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence.

It’s not surprising when it was further reported that 235 children between the ages of 10 and 14 were widowed and 77 divorced or permanently separated — according to the 2000 population and housing census in Malaysia. This is on the account that a minor proceeds with a divorce, which can be often traumatic for someone of a tender age to go through that ordeal. At the very least, these marriages significantly impact a young girl’s life, health, and family, and ultimately robs them of any future.

The practice of normalising child marriages and teen pregnancy, especially within the state legal systems will leave room for child-grooming and pedophilia — which usually come hand-in-hand with these issues.

I believe that as a society, we are partially responsible for the safety of our fellow Malaysians. When we choose to turn a blind eye to the exploitation of innocent children and leaving them vulnerable to mental abuse, high-rise pregnancies , gender violence while robbing them of education and opportunities to defend child marriages, we are choosing to ignore the world of pain and suffering that these children are being dragged into.

Hence, we have to stand up for the defenceless and vulnerable children that are being groomed and exploited and cheated out of their childhood. If we don’t then who will. Let us make a difference to the young ones that will be the future leaders of our country.

A child is not a bride. They belong in school and not the labour room.


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