Married adolescent: No place of safety


Marriage is widely regarded as aplace of safety to shelter from the risks of adolescence. Inmany parts of the developing world, parents and policy makers see marriage as a walled garden where cultural and family values protect young girls from defilement and stigma.Particularly in poorer and rural areas, there is pressure on parents to marry off their daughters while they are very young before they become an economic liability. Millions of girls reluctantly enter into marriage while they are still children, just sexually mature but unready in every other way for this profound change in their lives. Typically, an adolescent bride knows little of her new husband or new life, has little control over her destiny and is unaware of the health risks that she faces. When an adolescent girl starts a sexual rela- tionship with a man 10 years older than she is,he may be sexually experienced. If he is infect- ed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or with HIV, a marriage certificate offers no protection. In the context of the AIDS pandem-ic, it is a chilling fact that the majority of unprotected sex between an un-infected adoles-cent girl and an infected older man takes place within marriage with the blessing of parentsand community. Neither AIDS nor STIs respect marriage as a place of safety.


Peter McIntyre, Oxford, UK.



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