Reproductive Health

India's Maternal Deaths Tied to Teen Moms' Anemia

Monday, March 21, 2011

A huge portion of Indian female teens from impoverished families are getting married off and giving birth while malnourished, helping to explain why India has the highest number of maternal deaths in the world. A few here find a way to beat the odds.

NEW DELHI (WOMENSENEWS)--As soon as Vanita turned 13, her family stopped her from going to school. Instead, she was made to accompany her mother to nearby houses for domestic work while her father looked around for a suitable groom.

Had it not been for intervention by the Centre for Health Education, Training and Nutrition Awareness (CHETNA), a nongovernmental organization working in the slum where Vanita lives, she would have been among the 43 percent of adolescent girls in India who are married off before the age of 18. The organization, based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, works to improve the health and nutrition of children, youth and women, including socially- excluded and disadvantaged groups.

Only Bangladesh, Niger and Chad have higher figures of adolescent marriages, according to UNICEF's report on The State of the World's Children 2011, released Feb. 25.

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This high incidence of adolescent marriage both robs adolescents of their youth and deprives them of opportunities, says Karin Hulshof of UNICEF India.

"Girls in the age group 15-19 who marry early are most at risk of being caught up in a negative cycle of premature child-bearing, high rates of maternal mortality and child under nutrition," Hulshof said.

The UNICEF report, which focuses on adolescents, finds that despite its rapid economic growth, India has not been able to significantly redress gender disparity.

India, which was ranked 119 out of 189 countries in a U.N. gender inequality index in 2010, has been particularly lagging in the area of female teens' nutrition.

A prime indication of this is anemia, or low hemoglobin levels, which can easily be corrected by proper nutrition. While 30 percent of adolescent males in the country are anemic, the UNICEF study finds that rate is almost double among female teens.

More than 22 percent of married adolescents in India give birth before they become adults. But with 56 percent of female adolescents being anemic, it increases their risk of maternal death and morbidity rates.

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