Purpose of review
To review current evidence on the links between early marriage and health-related outcomes for young women and their children.
Every third young woman in the developing countries excluding China continues to marry as a child, that is before age 18. Recent studies reiterate the adverse health consequences of early marriage among young women and their children even after a host of confounding factors are controlled. The current evidence is conclusive with regard to many indicators: unintended pregnancy, pregnancy-related complications, preterm delivery, delivery of low birth weight babies, fetal mortality and violence within marriage. However, findings present a mixed picture with regard to many other indicators, the risk of HIV and the risk of neonatal, infant and early childhood mortality, for example.
The findings call for further examination of the health consequences of early marriage. What are even less clear are the pathways through which the associations between early marriage and adverse outcomes take place. There is a need for research that traces these links. At the same time, findings argue strongly for programmatic measures that delay marriage and recognize the special vulnerabilities of married adolescent girls.