Updated: Sep 23, 2020
Child marriage poses a significant threat to children’s health. In the United States, those married as children face an increased risk of serious health conditions including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Child marriage is also associated with higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, maternal and infant mortality, and premature birth.
But despite its alarming impacts on children’s physical health, there are very few studies that evaluate the long-lasting impact of child marriage on mental health.
Noting the evident gap in information on this subject, researchers in 2011 conducted the first national study that considered the possible psychological impacts of child marriage in the U.S.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, drew data from the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions - Wave 1 (NESARC) and relied on responses from more than 18,000 women who had participated in NESARC and were presently married.
The study investigated the lifetime and 12-month prevalence of psychiatric disorders associated with child marriage and estimated the rates of mental health treatment among women who had been married as children. It also took into consideration sociodemographic factors including age, race, education level, household income, and location.
Based on the data, researchers concluded that child marriage is associated with higher rates of lifetime and current psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders. The study also revealed that girls under the age of 18 who marry are more likely to become dependent on alcohol, drugs, and nicotine.
Dr. Yann Le Strat, the study’s lead author, explained in an interview with HuffPost that these findings point to the “high burden” of child marriage.
"With a 41 percent increased risk of mental disorder, child marriage should be considered a major psychological trauma," he said.
But the burden of child marriage does not stop at just a diagnosis. There is also a huge need for treatment associated with the conditions linked to child marriage, leading the rates of child-married women seeking mental health services to be very high.
While this study has its limitations and only scratches the surface of the impact child marriage may have on mental health, its documentation of the issue is still a step towards better understanding the havoc child marriage can wreak on a child’s life. This research also opens the door for future studies that investigate why such high rates of psychiatric conditions are correlated with child marriage.
Students Against Child Marriage is actively working to close the research gaps surrounding underage marriage. Our team of student researchers is working with professors across the country to advance the understanding of this crucial issue and save lives. If you’re interested in joining our research team, just fill out this form! And if you’re a researcher interested in partnering with us, just email info@StudentsAgainst.org to get in touch!