Twenty thousand girls under age 18 give birth every day in the developing world, adding up to 7.3 million births each year. Of that number, 2 million births occur to girls under age 15, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which released its 2013 report on the State of World Population yesterday.
Entitled “Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the Challenges of Adolescent Pregnancy,” the report calls for a shift away from interventions targeted at the girl, towards interventions that address the underlying causes of adolescent pregnancy, including gender inequality, poverty, sexual violence and coercion, child marriage, lack of access to education, and lack of economic opportunities, among other multidimensional factors.
The report also highlights the need to reframe adolescent pregnancy, and challenges policy makers to see the problem as a result of girls’ lack of choices and autonomy. The report notes that most adolescent pregnancy occurs among girls who are marginalized, have limited access to services, and have little decision-making power. This reality is made stark when the picture of these young mothers becomes clear. According to the report, 90 percent of pregnancies to girls under age 18 occur within child marriage. One in nine girls in the developing world are married before age 15. Lack of education opportunities is often tied to child marriage. The report indicates that girls who are allowed to attend school are less likely to become pregnant or be married.
Adolescent pregnancy can have long-term consequences for girls, their families, and communities. Young girls are more at risk for maternal death and obstetric fistula. About 70,000 girls in developing countries die each year from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
The report makes several recommendations for improving the outlook for girls globally. These include the elimination of child marriage, enforcement of laws against sexual violence and abuse, engaging men and boys to support girls’ human rights, expansion of comprehensive sexuality education, increasing access to reproductive health services and contraception, and ensuring access to education through targeted interventions.