Child marriage worsens population pressure

Girls and their children at the government run maternal hostel in Burkina Faso.
(Brahima Ouedraogo/IRIN)

It was not the first time the Burkina Faso primary school director saw one of his female students drop out to get married, but the February wedding of 11-year-old Maimouna Tamboura was “too much” for Adama Sawadogo.

“I decided for the first time to alert my bosses to intervene and annul the marriage because I could no longer bear to see pupils with whom I have worked so hard to turn into tomorrow’s leaders give up and [return] home,” said the headmaster of the primary school in Gankouna, 275km north of the capital Ouagadougou.

The minimum age to marry in Burkina Faso is 17 for women, but more than half of women aged 20 to 24 marry are already married by age 18, according to the government.

Population experts say more early marriages means a higher population rate, in a country of 14 million where the rate is already at three percent, according to the most recent government census in 2006.

“There is a clear link between early marriage and population growth,” Jean Louis Dakuyo, a demographer at the governmental National Population Advisory Council, told IRIN. “The earlier they [young girls] get married, the more child-bearing years they have.”

The fertility rate is highest in the country’s northern region called the Sahel, which also has the country’s highest occurrence of child marriages. Women there have on average up to eight children verses the national average of six (2006 government data), according to demographer Dakuyo.

“In the Sahel region girls aged 12 to 13 are married and we can imagine how many children [they] will have [by age] 25 since in rural areas there is no space between pregnancies,” Dakuyo told IRIN.


While the culture favours child marriages, poverty is also a factor, according to the Population Council. “When parents cannot feed or meet the health needs of their daughter, they will prefer to give her for marriage,” said the council’s Gisele Kaboré.

She said the phenomenon worsens as girls become sexually active earlier. “Parents are afraid of having to care for an [early] pregnancy, so when the girl seems mature they get rid of her [through marriage].”

While the Gankouna school did not succeed in annulling the marriage of 11-year-old Maimouna, it was able to convince her to come back to school, according to director Sawadogo. But even so, the child’s educational future is still not secure, he told IRIN. “I am now afraid that she will become pregnant and stop coming to school.”

Half of the girls in Burkina Faso who marry underage become pregnant within the first year of marriage and leave the classroom, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

Health dangers

Among Burkina Faso’s 13 regions the Sahel has the highest maternal mortality rate with 840 deaths per 100,000 live births, verses the national average of 700 (2006 data), according to UNFPA.

Most child brides do not seek care at health centres, opting instead for traditional healers, according to the Population Council. In 2004 fewer than 18 percent of women in the Sahel region gave birth in health centres, according to the Ministry of Health.

Unattended deliveries are responsible for the region’s fistula problem, according to UNFPA. In 2007 there were 54 reported fistula cases in the Sahel, which was the highest occurrence nationwide, according to the Health Ministry.

UNFPA in February launched a US$1.6-million anti-child marriage peer education and job training project in 24 areas that have the country’s worst development indicators and highest rates of child marriage.


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