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Mental health: an overlooked concern in the global fight to end child marriage

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

A recent episode of The Intelligence podcast by The Economist aired a discussion on child marriage in Ethiopia. They highlighted some health-related consequences of child marriage, including the health complications following pregnancy and childbirth.

They reported that while in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, 1 in 3 girls marry before the age of 18, Ethiopia has been successful in reducing the practice.

In the previous 5–6 years, rates of child marriages fell by 1/3 - the world’s fastest decline in child marriages. This success has been linked to increased government commitment to the issue, with the Ethiopian government pledging to eradicate child marriage and FGM by 2025 at the Girl Summit 2014 in London.

Attendees of the Ethiopian government's launch of their five-year national roadmap to end child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation, 2019

It is important that podcasts like The Intelligence and other forms of media raise public awareness of the global issue of child marriage. Although ending early and forced marriages are a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 5), it continues to receive less attention and funding than it needs.

A shift towards considering the impact of, and ways to reduce, child marriage has occurred in the past decade. Initiatives such as the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage are prioritising interventions related to the sexual and reproductive health effects of child marriage.

While these are important issues, one significant area that is still being forgotten about is the mental health consequences of child marriage.

A few recent studies – including from Ethiopia – have found that child marriage is linked to an increased risk of suicide, suicidal thoughts, depression and high stress levels.

Girls also face the distressing burden of a partner’s sexual demands and the mental health consequences of complicated pregnancies.

Mental health and child marriage won’t receive the consideration they need unless more people are aware of the problem. With more than 650 million adult women alive today who were married as children, we should be addressing their mental health as a matter of urgency.

The full discussion from The Intelligence on Economist Radio is available online at:


1. Chinyama, V. (2019). Ethiopia launches a five-year, US$ 94 million plan to end child marriage and FGM. UNICEF.

3. Girls Not Brides. Child marriage around the world. [Online]

4. UNICEF. Child marriage: Latest trends and future prospects. 2017 United Nations, New York.

5. UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage (2017).

6. Gage, AJ. Association of child marriage with suicidal thoughts and attempts adolescent girls in Ethiopia. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2013 May 1;52(5):654-6.

7. John, N. A., Edmeades, J. and Murithi, L. ‘Child marriage and psychological well- being in Niger and Ethiopia’, BMC Public Health. BMC Public Health, 2019(1029), pp. 1–12.

8. Gebresilase, Y. T. ‘A qualitative study of the experience of obstetric fistula survivors in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’, International Journal of Women’s Health, 2014 6, pp. 1033–1043.

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