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Young pregnant and poor — a global reality

Earlier this week we reported on the Stats SA report on live births and the startling revelations it contained of pregnancy among young South African girls. In light of this, Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya was keen to investigate whether there was an international trend with respect to teenage pregnancy. Worryingly, it appears that motherhood at a young age is a world phenomenon that sets our young girls on a sad life trajectory. This affects not only their long-term physical wellbeing but also any prospects for breaking the poverty cycle that has already led them to become mothers in their adolescent years. 

Early and unplanned motherhood is a universal challenge with almost the same consequences for the poorest and most marginalised regardless of where they live in the world.

The World Health Organisation report on Adolescent Pregnancy dated 23 February 2018, shows that every year, an estimated 21 million girls aged 15 to 19 and 2 million girls under 15 fall pregnant in developing regions. In addition, approximately 16 million girls aged 15 to 19, and 2.5 million girls under the age of 16 give birth in the world’s most underdeveloped regions.

The report added: “Adolescent pregnancies are a global problem that occurs in high, middle, and low income countries. Around the world, adolescent pregnancies are more likely to occur in marginalised communities, commonly driven by poverty and lack of education and employment opportunities.

“For some adolescents, pregnancy and childbirth are planned and wanted. In some contexts, girls may face social pressure to marry and, once married, to have children. Each year, about 15 million girls are married before the age of 18 years, and 90% of births to girls aged 15 to 19 years occur within marriage.”

Various reports by many credible organisations have shown the link between intergenerational poverty and adverse health implications for girls who, for the most part, become mothers much earlier than they had planned.

“Similarly, girls who become pregnant before age 18 are more likely to experience violence within marriage or a partnership. With regards to education, school-leaving can be a choice when a girl perceives pregnancy to be a better option in her circumstances than continuing education, or can be a direct cause of pregnancy or early marriage. An estimated 5% to 33% of girls ages 15 to 24 years who drop out of school in some countries do so because of early pregnancy or marriage.”

Research based on the health histories of more than 1 000 women in the Canadian-led International Mobility in Ageing Study found that teenage mothers are more likely to have an early menopause as well as a hysterectomy.

It found that 43% of women who had a child while under 20 also went through the menopause by the age of 45. By comparison, 33% of those who had a child later went on to have an early menopause.

Around half the women who had an early menopause also had a hysterectomy, compared with less than a quarter of those who experienced menopause when they were older.

According to WHO, “adolescent pregnancy remains a major contributor to maternal and child mortality, and to intergenerational cycles of ill-health and poverty.  Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among 15 to 19 year-old girls globally, with low and middle-income countries accounting for 99% of global maternal deaths of women ages 15 to 49 years.”

“Adolescent mothers (ages 10 to 19 years) face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and systemic infections than women aged 20 to 24 years. Additionally, some 3.9 million unsafe abortions among girls aged 15 to 19 years occur each year, contributing to maternal mortality and lasting health problems. Furthermore, the emotional, psychological and social needs of pregnant adolescent girls can be greater than those of other women.”

Key facts on teen pregnancies:

  • Approximately 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 years and 2.5 million girls under 16 years give birth each year in developing regions.
  • Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for 15 to 19 year-old girls globally.
  • Every year, some 3.9 million girls aged 15 to 19 years undergo unsafe abortions .
  • Adolescent mothers (ages 10 to 19 years) face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and systemic infections than women aged 20 to 24 years.

Images: Flickr

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya
Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury, The Witness and Sowetan and a senior journalist at many other mainstream South African newspapers.

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