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Issue No.: 561 | March 2014

Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy

J. S. Apte
International Women’s Day 8th March 2014

8th March is celebrated as International Women’s Day all over the world for more than 80 years. Though a lot of work and a number of reforms have been done in the field of women’s welfare, there is still a long way to go. State of World Population Report 2013 paints a grim picture of "Motherhood in Childhood.”

About 19 percent of young women in developing countries become pregnant before the age 18 - that is 20,000 girls below the age 18 become mothers everyday. Child marriages lead to motherhood in childhood. These marriages are totally unplanned, unwanted and unwelcome. This phenomenon is an unfortunate outcome of a variety of factors - poverty, gender inequality, sexual violence, coercion. A pregnancy in childhood can have immediate and lasting effects on a girl’s health, education and earning potential. About 70,000 adolescent girls in developing countries die annually of causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. This is a huge wastage of human capital. The phenomenon of adolescent pregnancy is closely related to issues of human rights. A pregnant girl is forced by her parents to leave the school. Thus she is deprived of her right to education.

According to estimates for 2010, 36.4 million women in developing countries below the ages of 20 to 24 report giving birth before the age 18, of this 17.4 million are from South Asia. Among developing regions, west and central Africa have the maximum percentage - about 28 percent. Developed countries are no exception to adolescent pregnancies. Of the annual 13.1 million births to girls between ages 15 to 19 worldwide 680,000 are from developed countries. Among the developed countries, the United States has the maximum adolescent birth rate.

Adolescent pregnancies are not the concern and problem only in developing countries. Hundreds and thousands of them are reported each year in high and middle income countries also. In developing countries most adolescent pregnancies occur within marriage but in developed countries they occur outside marriage. There is a significant difference between the two types of countries. Adolescent pregnancy has a triple impact on health, education and family economy. Maternal death, illness and disability including obstetric fistula complications of unsafe abortion come under health impact, while school dropouts leading to loss of educational opportunities is the educational effect Family budgets get affected due to loss of employment opportunities.

A number of countries have devised a variety of programmes for prevention of adolescent pregnancies.Jamaica has instituted a government foundation that enables pregnant girls to continue their education and return to school after they give birth. Kenya gives free school uniforms that increase enrollment, reduce dropout rates by 17 percent. Legislation has a limited role in preventing adolescent pregnancies. According to a recent UNICEF paper, in India though 47 percent of girls are married before 18, only 11 people were convicted for performing child marriages in 2010 despite legislation forbidding it. For most poor families an adolescent girl is a cause of their concern for her security. She is viewed as a financial burden. 

A promotional programme for adolescent girls in Bihar was implemented by Pathfinder International Prachar. A government programme has its objective of changing behaviour with the aim of delaying marriage and promoting healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies among adolescent and young couples in Bihar. Bihar has the highest prevalence of child marriage (63 percent) and maximum share (25 percent) of girls between the ages of 15 to 19 who have begun childbearing. The results of the programme are quite encouraging. Participants were 44 percent less likely to be married and 39 percent are less likely to have a child than girls outside the programme area. Prevention of adolescent pregnancy is indeed the need of the hour.

J. S. APTE formerly Director, Family Planning Association of India. 
He is based is Pune.





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