- What is the natural age for marriage?
- When does a woman become fully grown and mature?
- The effect of early child-bearing on a woman’s health.
- The effect on children of a young and untrained mother.
Physiologists and medical men might differ in their views if asked to state the age at which man or woman arrives at full growth and maximum strength. In certain public schools of England, boys of sisteen are not allowed to take part in long races, or in public competitions against other schools, on the ground that they are only partly grown and their youthful bodies must not be overstrained. In Europe, twenty-one’ is regarded as the minimum age for a woman to marry. Before that, she is considered to be still growing, to be a child and not legally responsible.
It is true that, in a tropical climate, a woman ripens and comes to maturity earlier than in the cold countries of the west. So marriage at an earlier age may be explained. But sometimes children are led away in marriage. A young schoolmaster, coming back from his mother’s funeral ceremonies said, “She was just thirteen years older than I.” What a picture that opened up! He was just twenty-five years of age. She had died, and old woman in very sense of the word, except that she was just thirty-eight years of ago.
When a woman in her early teens bears children, she is still growing and might be expected to grow and develop for some years to come. But the development of the mother ends and everything is given to the child. Not only is her own development ended, but being herself immature, she is not able to give the nourishment that a fully developed mother could give. This means that the child is not so well nourished as it should be. It will grow up all right, but with physique just a little weak, with bodily frame less strong than it might have been. Many cases of this produce in the aggregate a nation of poor physique.
Because the mother is young, her general education is interrupted. She does not know how to manage and bring up a child. We all admit that the influence of a good mother is the strongest factor in the upbringing of a family. She is the great source of strength and inspiration to her family. But a mother who marries before completing normal education remains partly educated, sometimes illiterate. Thus she is never able to afford her children the guidance and inspiration which would have been possible, had she been allowed three or four years more to develop her personality before marriage.