Today is World Population Day and this year’s theme is adolescent pregnancy. We are going to concentrate our efforts on addressing the needs of adolescent girls in developing countries as they make up over 500 million of the 600 million girls in the world according to the UNFPA. Nearly 16 million of them give birth between the ages of 15 -19 every year accounting for 11% of births worldwide.
Giving birth at such a young age is severely traumatic for girls because although their bodies can reproduce their bodies are too small to deliver a baby in most cases. This is one of the primary factors that leads to maternal and newborn mortality, increased obstetric fistulas and other childbirth complications.
Girls who marry young and who have little education are most at risk for adolescent pregnancies. They often do not have access to family planning education or it is forbidden by her husband. There are grave consequences when adolescent girls are not given the option to plan their pregnancies which leads to increased probability of death or injury during childbirth or the same from unsafe abortions. In 2008 there were an estimated 3.2 million unsafe abortions for girls between 15-19 according to UNFPA data.
Additionally young girls in developing countries who marry early are at higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDS from their much older husbands. Young women between the ages of 15 – 24 make up 64 percent of new HIV cases worldwide.
What can be done about adolescent pregnancy in low and middle income countries? Governments and NGOs need to come together to push for greater access to education for girls. Studies show the more education a girl has, the longer she prolongs marriage. Additionally, there needs to be a greater emphasis on child marriages and the detrimental effects it has on adolescent girls. And finally, girls need greater reproductive education and access to family planning services in order to adequately plan their pregnancies.
In many cultures a woman’s worth is wrapped in motherhood. The only problem comes when young girls become mothers too early.
Photo: United Nations