New Report Highlights Motherhood in Childhood

When I traveled throughout Tanzania and Zambia recently I noticed young mothers at every turn. With sleeping babies closely wrapped on their backs I often thought how fortunate these girls were to have survived a pregnancy and delivery at such a young age and then my thoughts would wander off thinking how many children might they already have at such a young age and how many more children would they have in the future. Tanzania and Zambia are two of the top twenty countries with high teenage pregnancy rates according to a brand-new State of the World’s Population report that was released today by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Every day 20,000 girls under the age of 18 give birth in developing countries according to the new report: Motherhood in Childhood. 7.3 million births a year are delivered by adolescents, 2 million of which are delivered by girls under the age of 14.

A 13-year-old fistula patient at a VVF centre in Nigeria. © UNFPA/Akintunde Akinleye
A 13-year-old fistula patient at a VVF centre in Nigeria.
© UNFPA/Akintunde Akinleye

“Too often, society blames only the girl for getting pregnant,” said UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin. “The reality is that adolescent pregnancy is most often not the result of a deliberate choice, but rather the absence of choices, and of circumstances beyond a girl’s control. It is a consequence of little or no access to school, employment, quality information and health care.”

When adolescents become pregnant they often cease their studies and cut their education short which adversely affects their lifetime earning potential. They also may face terrible health complications from their delivery and may even die from these complications causing a ripple effect in her family’s dynamic and the health of the baby. 200 young girls die every day from delivery complications.

Improving Adolescent Pregnancy Rates

Schooling is the strongest catalyst that will decrease adolescent pregnancy rates in the developing world. Developing countries account for 95% of the world’s teenage pregnancies. This is to due to traditional norms in which girls are expected to marry and procreate early, sexual abuse, peer pressure, and pressure from older men who court younger girls for sex in low resource and impoverished areas. Girls who experience sexual relations are, of course, susceptible to an increased chance of getting STIs and HIV/AIDS in addition to becoming pregnant. Contraceptives and family planning education and services may be unavailable to them or shunned.

“We must reflect on and urge changes to the policies and norms of families, communities and governments that often leave a girl with no other choice, but a path to early pregnancy,” said Mr. Osotimehin. “This is what we are doing at UNFPA and what we will continue to do and recommend until every girl is able to choose the direction of her life, own her future and achieve her greatest potential.”

Read the report: Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy

Top photo copyright: Jennifer James

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