WASHINGTON, D.C. – Girls under the age of 15 are the most vulnerable and at risk group globally. By this age, girls around the world encounter double the risk of contracting HIV compared to boys in the same age group. This is due to unsafe, unwanted, and often forced sexual encounters. This sexual activity often results in unwanted and unplanned pregnancies.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that out of the 135 million live births annually, more than 15 million are among girls aged 15-19 years.
In developing countries, one in every three girls gives birth by the age of 18. This accumulates to about 20,000 girls under the age of 18 who give birth every day, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Despite significant efforts to end child marriages, one in three girls in developing countries is married before she turns 18. Therefore, most of these pregnancies, nine out of ten, are in a marriage or union.
Teenage pregnancy results in many disadvantages for the girl, the baby, her family, and her community. Teenage pregnancy places the girl’s health at risk and it often results in death and unsafe abortions. About 200 teenage girls die of childbirth every day in developing countries, amounting to about 70,000 deaths a year. Also, approximately three million girls aged 15-19 undergo unsafe abortions every year. These unsafe abortions often result in lasting health problems for the mother or maternal deaths.
Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15-19 years in developing countries.
Moreover, teenage pregnancies perpetuate poverty. These at risk adolescent girls are commonly poor and uneducated. Having children at a young age not only diminishes the possibility of them gaining an education, but also limits their employment prospects.
The good news: In this year’s State of the World Population report, data suggests that teenage pregnancies have decreased in 54 developing countries.
However, throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, teenage pregnancies are on the rise. Education on birth control and reproductive rights is not reaching many adolescents in urban slums. For instance, one in every three teenagers in Central America is unaware that the girl can become pregnant after only one sexual encounter. Moreover, most of the pregnancies in Latin America are the result of forced sexual activity.
WHO has put forward an evidence-based strategy in response to the vast amount of pregnant teenagers. Their objectives include:
- reducing marriage before the age of 18;
- creating understanding and support to reduce pregnancy before the age of 20;
- increasing the use of contraception by adolescents at risk of unintended pregnancy;
- reducing coerced sex among adolescents;
- reducing unsafe abortion among adolescents;
- increasing the use of skilled antenatal, childbirth and postnatal care among adolescents.
As policies and programs have neglected this vulnerable population, a focus on the 10-15 age group should be included in the post 2015 development goals. More specifically, the response to this challenge should emphasize educating girls and boys in sex education, keeping girls in school, and providing better access to birth control methods.
– Caressa Kruth