GRC 2023 Global Essay Competition Top 10
By Kahn Nguyen
Around 21 million girls aged 15-19 get pregnant in developing regions every year (WHO). Adolescent pregnancy, with the practice of child brides as a contributor, is a global health crisis often neglected in many countries. This essay examines adolescent pregnancies’ effect on young girls, child marriages’ role and root causes, and solutions. I believe that granting girls, especially in impoverished regions, access to education would improve the international quality of life by reducing the number of child brides—hence, preventing adolescent pregnancies.
There are a plethora of dangers of adolescent pregnancy. Adolescent mothers are likely to develop eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and systemic infections. Additionally, their babies are at risk of low birth weight, preterm birth, and other severe neonatal conditions. These mothers are also likely to give birth in improper conditions, resulting in high rates of deaths during childbirth. One of many cases is Anna Machaya, a child bride who died giving birth at 15 in a church in Zimbabwe (CNN). According to Healthline, besides physical health concerns, adolescent mothers have a rate of postpartum depression doubled that of mothers over 24 and higher rates of suicidal ideation and PTSD. This issue is both a human rights violation and a danger to public health. Therefore, preventing adolescent pregnancies would greatly benefit our global well-being, especially that of young girls.
A major contributor to adolescent pregnancy is the practice of wedding off child brides in many communities with high rates of poverty, as stated by WHO. WHO estimated that there were 650 million child brides globally as of 2021. During my trip to Mù Càng Chải, home to a large Hmong community in Vietnam, I revealed I was interviewing women about the causes of child marriage, and a man joked to me in response: “You should be careful; someone might make you their child bride!” As a teenager around the age of the mothers there, this seemingly casual joke took on a deeper, more threatening meaning. It perfectly reflected how normalized it was to steal a girls’ childhood in some communities due to tradition. These traditions have been passed down from generation to generation, long enough to be internalized and become a social norm. It is difficult to break the cycle because the victims are often incapable of protecting themselves at that age. Many girls, specifically those lacking financial and educational resources, resort to becoming child brides due to the belief that depending on husbands is the only way to support themselves (Girls Not Brides). Additionally, they are likely unexposed to external communities as an effect of their limited education, leading them to be unaware of the detrimental physical and mental consequences of underage marriage and pregnancies, and ways to safely navigate their future. This practice is largely catalyzed by sexism: it enforces women’s lack of autonomy over their bodies and futures and widens the power imbalance between men and women, thus placing women at a significant systematic disadvantage. From this analysis, it can be concluded that child marriages and pregnancies are a manifestation of the poor living conditions inflicted on young girls in underdeveloped regions.
There isn’t a single solution to solve adolescent pregnancy but rather a collection of steps building off of each other. A crucial step to prevent child pregnancy is to level the playing field between men and women by equipping girls with what they need to support themselves: namely education. Education opens up job prospects for girls, giving them the ability to be financially independent. Educating girls will also dissuade them from problematic beliefs, such as that childbearing is a girl’s sole duty or that women must rely on men to survive. Slowly but surely, the practice will diminish as more and more people abandon it. As more girls join the workforce, the income and efficiency of people in those regions will increase, resulting in the alleviation of poverty. Donating to organizations that aim to provide education to girls like the Malala Fund is a way to take action. Individuals can also contribute to the solution by educating themselves and spreading awareness about this issue. The more people that understand the issue, the quicker that attitudes toward girls will improve and the more support the organizations will gain. As citizens of the world, we all have a moral responsibility to defend those who cannot do so themselves.
“Adolescent Pregnancy.” World Health Organization. Accessed November 23, 2023. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-pregnancy.
Nall, Rachel. “Effects of Teenage Pregnancy: Mental Health.” Healthline, September 19, 2016. https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/teenage-pregnancy-effects.
“Why It Happens.” Girls Not Brides. Accessed November 23, 2023. https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/about-child-marriage/why-child-marriage-happens/#:~:text=Because%20girls%20have%20less%20access,welfare%20and%20protection%20safety%20nets.
Chingono, Nyasha. “Death of a 15-Year-Old Girl While Giving Birth Exposes Dark Practice of Child Marriage in Zimbabwe.” CNN, October 11, 2021. https://edition.cnn.com/2021/10/11/africa/zimbabwe-church-abuse-intl/index.html.