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The Connection Between Child Marriage and Fistulas

Fatiah Mohamed (age 38) has given birth to 10 children, six of whom have survived. At the age of 8, her father’s new wife took her to undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); a devastating procedure that was to cause problems for many years to follow. After suffering a fistula following the birth of her tenth child, Fatiah was isolated from her family and community. When she heard World Vision was working with fistula sufferers, she sought help and after a successful surgery she has become a strong advocate against FGM. “My daughters have not had FGM, and they will not – my experience was so bad, I am determined. When we show the problem, people will change.” Photo: ©2010 Tim Freccia/World Vision

Fatiah Mohamed (age 38) has given birth to 10 children, six of whom have survived. At the age of 8, her father’s new wife took her to undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); a devastating procedure that was to cause problems for many years to follow. After suffering a fistula following the birth of her tenth child, Fatiah was isolated from her family and community. When she heard World Vision was working with fistula sufferers, she sought help and after a successful surgery she has become a strong advocate against FGM. “My daughters have not had FGM, and they will not – my experience was so bad, I am determined. When we show the problem, people will change.”
Photo: ©2010 Tim Freccia/World Vision

An obstetric fistula is a childbirth complication due to obstructed labor when the tissues between a woman’s vagina and her bladder or rectum are damaged from the pressure from the baby’s head stuck in the birth canal. This obstruction is extremely painful and women who are not treated immediately can get infections and fistulas are a major cause of maternal mortality. With an obstetric fistula, patients leak urine or feces due to the damages caused during a complicated child birthing. Due to the lack of education, these women often do not understand what is happening to them and the majority of women who have fistulas are abandoned by their husbands and ostracized by their communities because of their inability to have children and their foul smell. According to the World Health Organization, each year between a staggering 50,000 to 100,000 women worldwide are affected by obstetric fistulas. The development of obstetric fistula is directly linked to one of the major causes of maternal mortality. There are many causes to obstetric fistulas but they are mostly seen in the developing world where women and girls lack access to adequate health care. Like maternal mortality, fistulas can be completely prevented and treatable with the right amount of education and health care.

One of the most common causes of obstetric fistulas the age in which the girl is impregnated. There is a direct correlation to areas in which child marriage is common to high numbers of obstetric fistulas. The dangerous combination of girls under the ages of 16 having sex, getting pregnant and bearing a child when her body is not yet developed is one of the main reasons fistulas are prevalent. In fact, girls giving birth before their bodies are ready accounts for at least 25 percent of known fistula cases. According to the International Center for Research on Women, girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s and pregnancy is the leading cause of death worldwide for women ages 15 to 19. This is particularly alarming as in most of the developing world, 90 percent of girls who give birth before age 18 are married.

To help prevent obstetric fistulas, we must focus our energy on encouraging communities to discourage marrying off their young daughters. With that, to make obstetric fistulas as rare in the developing world as it is in the industrialized world we need to increase women’s access to appropriate health care. Women of Vision and World Vision have partnered with the UNFPA Campaign to End Fistula to help raise awareness of Obstetric Fistula and the fact that is it largely preventable when women are given proper access to health care. Continue to help support our efforts in preventing child marriages and obstetric fistulas.

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