Women who give birth before the age of 18 stand a 50 percent higher risk of experiencing a stillbirth or newborn death, the World Health Organization reports. According to the UN Population Fund, more than seven million girls under the age of 18 give birth each year in developing countries such as India and Kenya.
“Too often, society blames only the girl for getting pregnant,” said UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin. “The reality is that adolescent pregnancy is most often not the result of a deliberate choice, but rather the absence of choices, and of circumstances beyond a girl’s control. It is a consequence of little or no access to school, employment, quality information and health care.”
Dr. Osotimehin and his colleagues were particularly concerned with the amount of girls 14 and under who give birth each year. Around two million girls in this age group gave birth at least once, and health risks were significantly higher. Children born to women who do not practice prenatal care are three times more likely to be born premature and five times more likely to die within a year of being born.
The UNFPA is now backing a new approach to limiting teen pregnancies that is based on five simple principles: (1) keep girls in school, (2) prevent child marriages, (3) clear up gender roles and identity, (4) improve our children’s sexual and reproductive education, and (5) provide young girls with a reliable support system.
“We must reflect on and urge changes to the policies and norms of families, communities and governments that often leave a girl with no other choice, but a path to early pregnancy," Dr. Osotimehin added. “This is what we are doing at UNFPA and what we will continue to do and recommend until every girl is able to choose the direction of her life, own her future and achieve her greatest potential."
The report also indicated that mother and child are not the only individuals to suffer from the consequences of a child giving birth to a child. For example, countries like Brazil and India would be able to increase their economic productivity to over $4 billion if young girls could wait until after 20 to become pregnant.
Although this report from the UN focuses on underdeveloped countries, the number of teenage girls in developed countries, like the United States, is also an important issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, girls between the age of 15 and 19 deliver 329,772 babies each year in the U.S.