Married Adolescents: No Place of Safety

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Every ten years, 100 million married adolescents need services and support. Girls’ exposure to early, unwanted sexual activity, early pregnancy, reproductive tract infections (RTIs) and HIV has been widely recognized since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development. However, many programmes are focused on unmarried adolescents and fail to recognize the huge numbers of girls who are married below the age of 18. The World Health Organization, the United Nations Population Fund and the Population Council convened a Technical Consultation on married adolescents in Geneva in December 2003 to address this gap in understanding and programming. The meeting looked at key messages from research and best practice from programmes and at ways to draw this significant problem to the attention of policy makers and programme planners. This document is one outcome of that meeting. This document looks at what we mean by early marriage, and how, although it is declining around the world, 100 million girls will marry before their 18th birthday over the next ten years. As a result of early marriage, many adolescent girls are having unsafe sex within marriage, with an older and sexually experienced man who may be infected with a sexually transmitted infection, or HIV. It notes how, in many countries, the time gap between getting married and having a first baby is declining. It outlines the risks of too early pregnancy and explores the reasons why families and communities feel under pressure to continue the practice of marrying off their daughters while they are still adolescents.

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