New Delhi: Data from the fourth National Family and Health Survey (NFHS-4) surveyed 60,096 women to find what age they were at the time of their first pregnancy. It was found that 25% of these women were in the age group of 10-19 years (adolescence).
Children born to adolescent mothers score poorly on height and weight for their age. Adolescent mothers are also more likely to be underweight themselves as well as anemic, and less likely to access health services or have a complete education.
A new study published in The Lancet journal looks at this relationship between pregnancies among adolescents and undernutrition in early childhood.
It has studied this link through the lens of early marriage in India – marrying a girl under the age of 18 is illegal in the country as per the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. However, girls in India continue to be married off early, then to consummate that marriage and to bear children early on.
While 25% of mothers in India are adolescents at the time of their first pregnancy, government data shows that these women also got married earlier – the mean age at marriage is 16.4 years. The mean age for marriage in other brackets is higher – 19.7 and 24.3 years, for example.
“A greater proportion” of these adolescent women are in rural areas and from disadvantaged communities.
“Unfortunately, in India, early marriage and subsequent pregnancy is often not a deliberate choice, but rather the result of an absence of choices and of circumstances beyond a girl’s control,” said Purnima Menon, co-author of the study, to India Science Wire.
The paper suggests as a solution that: “Interventions to increase age at first marriage, age at first birth, and girl’s education are a promising approach to also improve maternal and child nutrition.”
The study analyses data from the 2016 National Family and Health Survey and has been written by a team of five researchers.
“Children born to adolescent mothers are at risk of being undernourished. Adolescent pregnancy is related to child undernutrition,” the paper states.
Some of the factors that exacerbate this link, according to the paper, include poor maternal nutritional status, low access to health services, low education levels, sub-optimal complementary feeding practice and poor living conditions. “Together, these factors accounted for an 11 percentage point higher prevalence of child stunting,” the paper says.
The researchers also note that reducing adolescent pregnancy will enable India to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals on health, nutrition, poverty, well-being, education and equity.