Firstly, how did you enter this field?
I am an Anthropologist working in the field of global health/ international development. I have a specific interest/expertise in girls and women with disabilities and I have found over the years that these young women in particular, are at increased risk for early marriage. Too often they are also at increased risk for violence, abuse, neglect and abandonment when married to partners and into families who may not be aware of their disabilities until after the marriage has occurred. I have written on and spoken on this issue over the years.
In addition, I co-chaired a Global Challenges meeting on child marriages, with particular focus on London, about 5 years ago.
Could you tell us why you are interested in the mental health effects of child marriage?
This is a global health issue, but it also has profound implications on issues such as multigenerational poverty, lack of education and denial of human rights that all compound short and long-term mental health issues.
I am also concerned that there is little – so far as I know – to address the impact of the mental health ramifications of child marriage for younger women who find themselves as child brides. But just as importantly, being a child bride can cause mental health issues throughout the life cycle and there is very little attention to middle-aged or older women who were child brides.
Can you tell us about some of the misconceptions (if any) that may exist when it comes to mental health and child marriage?
One of the misconceptions I’m most interested in is the fact that we concentrate on looking at mental health among girls/adolescents after they marry. But I think the fear/concern of arranged marriages effects girls and young women long before they are themselves married - the 10 year old who watches her 17 year old cousin be forced to marry may well spend the next 7 years living in fear about when this will happen to her.
While child marriages are framed as a girl/women’s issue, we know little about how this practice also affects boys/young men. This includes the brothers/close male family members who may not support the practice but have little or no models, or even the conceptual frameworks/vocabulary, to discuss why these practices may be disturbing for them as well.
How do you think we could raise awareness on the topic of mental health consequences of child marriage in general?
Only a small percentage of what we now know is reaching mainstream media/ general public. I think an academic network should work with media and advocacy groups to make this a public issue.
I think we can do much more to educate/provide the latest thinking and data on child marriages to professionals - especially young professionals. UCL has a medical school, law school, school of public health, etc.,– which we could more effectively be reaching out to. Firstly, we could train the next generation of professionals and secondly, we could pilot training materials at UCL and then expand to young professionals on a national and international basis.
How do you think other people could contribute and help make a difference?
Realistically, while the focus here is on mental health, there are people in a range of professions, advocacy groups and civil society organisations who – informed by current and growing understandings and insights around the mental health impact of child marriage - could do much to create policies, programmes and interventions to eliminate child marriages.
How do you think we could encourage future research in this field?
I think interdisciplinary research offers important avenues to be pursued. This includes research that can build in interventions towards child marriages and mental health support for girls/young women who have been forced into child marriages. Mental health professionals, programmes and services are very limited, especially in low and middle-income countries, so it is imperative that if we are to reach these children, such efforts be incorporated into new and on-going local, regional and national global health and international development efforts. Research into how these efforts can reach the broadest populations possible in ways that are effective, culturally appropriate and that can be evaluated over time, are all important to consider and could be a real contribution that can be made by this initiative.