About a third of all women in developing countries have children at the age of 19 or younger, and nearly half of first births to adolescents, are to children or girls aged 17 or under, according to a new analysis by UNFPA.
In the report “Motherhood in Childhood: The Untold Story“, the UNFPA noted that nearly half of first births to adolescents are to child mothers aged 17 years and younger. It also said that six per cent are to child mothers aged 14 years and younger. The report pointed out that majority of first births to girls aged 17 years and younger in 54 developing countries with data occur within marriage or cohabiting unions.
With respect to the report, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem said, “when nearly a third of all women in developing countries are becoming mothers during adolescence, it is clear the world is failing adolescent girls. The repeat pregnancies we see among adolescent mothers are a glaring signpost that they desperately need sexual and reproductive health information and services.”
The report mentioned that adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 years in low and middle income countries have an estimated 21 million pregnancies each year. It said that nearly half of which – 10 million – are unintended. More than a quarter of those 21 million – an estimated 5.7 million – end in abortion, the majority of which occur in unsafe conditions.
The report “Motherhood in Childhood: The Untold Story” said that there are encouraging signs of declining levels of motherhood in childhood (17 years and younger) and in adolescence (19 years and younger). However, the report mentioned that the pace of decline has been alarmingly slow, often declining by only a few percentage points per decade. The decline has not kept pace with declines in total fertility.
GENDER AND INCOME BASED
The report highlighted that gender-based and income inequalities are key in fuelling teen pregnancies, Entrenching these inequalities are climate disasters, COVID-19 and conflict, which are all upending lives around the world, obliterating livelihoods and making it more difficult for girls to afford or even physically reach school and health services. This leaves tens of millions yet more vulnerable to child marriage and early pregnancy.
The UNFPA in the report points out that a girl with a first birth at the age of 14 years or younger has on average 2.2 births before she is 20 years of age. Adding further, the report shows that a girl with a first birth between the ages of 15 and 17 years has on average 1.5 births before she is 20. Among girls with a first birth at 14 years of age or younger, nearly three quarters also have a second birth in adolescence, and 40 per cent of those with two births progress to a third birth before exiting adolescence. Nearly half of girls with a first birth between the ages of 15 and 17 years have a second birth in adolescence, and 11 per cent of those with two births have a third birth in adolescence. In line with child mothers’ high rates of repeat births in adolescence, 50 per cent of all adolescent births are to girls who were 17 years or younger at the time of their first birth, while 8 per cent of all adolescent births are to girls who were 14 years or younger at the time of their first birth.
Once an adolescent girl becomes a mother, she has a one-in-five chance of experiencing another adolescent birth within two years. Such short birth intervals come with considerable health risks. More than half of all repeat births in adolescence occur within 23 months of a previous birth.
Total fertility across the globe has fallen dramatically, but women who began childbearing in adolescence have had an average of 4.6 births by the time they are 40 years of age, while their peers who started childbearing after adolescence have had 3.4 births. Adolescent births account for 16 per cent of all births.
VULNERABLE TO GRAVE RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
In the analysis, the UNFPA said that complications from giving birth are major cause of death and injury for adolescent girls. Moreover, an adolescent mother can also face their human rights violation and serious social consequences, including child marriage, intimate-partner violence and mental health issues. And the youngest child mothers, face the highest risks.
“Governments need to invest in adolescent girls and help expand their opportunities, resources, and skillsets, thereby helping avoid early and unintended pregnancies,’ said Dr. Kanem. “When girls can meaningfully chart their own life course, motherhood in childhood will grow increasingly rare.”
The report lays out recommendations for policymakers including the need to provide girls with comprehensive sexuality education, mentorship, social support, and quality health services. It also calls on families to provide greater economic support, and engage local organizations, all within a supportive policy and legal framework that recognizes the rights, capacities and needs of adolescents, particularly marginalized adolescent girls.