At 21 million per year, teenage pregnancy rates remain distressingly high in low- and middle-income countries

At 21 million per year, teenage pregnancy rates remain distressingly high in low- and middle-income countries
Representative image (Canva)
The world is rapidly shifting towards a sustainable future, and the factors like climate action, economic growth, and technological innovation are receiving immense traction. However, the progress towards better sexual and reproductive health and rights seems to have halted across the globe while deteriorating in a few parts.
As per a recent assessment, the adolescent pregnancy rate is rising alarmingly in developing countries in contrast to the falling global fertility rate. Nearly half of the mothers in developing countries were 19 years of age when they had their first child, and roughly one-third of them had a child by the age of 17 and less, says a recently published report by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Adolescent pregnancies and birth rates are commonly reported as the age-specific fertility rate for ages 15-19 years and are usually higher in marginalised communities. In low- and middle-income countries, adolescent girls have an estimated 21 million pregnancies annually, 10 million of which are unintended. An estimated 5.7 million of those 21 million pregnancies end in abortions, most of which occur in risky circumstances, as per the report.
"When nearly a third of all women in developing countries are becoming mothers during adolescence, it is clear the world is failing adolescent girls," said UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem, raising concern over alarming pregnancy rates. "The repeat pregnancies we see among adolescent mothers are a glaring signpost that they desperately need sexual and reproductive health information and services."
Among the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), goal 3 is to “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”. Low- and middle-income countries have continued to battle financial crises, poverty, hunger, insufficient health care facilities, and lack of literacy for many centuries. The pandemic has acted as a catalyst that deprived girls of their fundamental human rights and left them vulnerable to child marriage and pregnancy, increasing economic and social precarity and turmoil among teenage girls.
In developing nations, girls continue to experience excess maternal mortality and morbidity, frequently due to poverty and a lack of access to education and employment. There is also a higher prevalence of STDs, unwanted pregnancies brought on by rape, and forced child marriages to lessen the financial burden and food insecurity on a family or to shield girls from sexual assault during the time of pandemic, wars and conflicts in many parts of the global south.
Lack of focus on literacy, education, health care, and gender inequality among many developing countries are shown to be the primary reasons for a rise in adolescent pregnancies.
“According to research, a girl with some secondary education is about six times less likely to be married as a child than a girl with only primary education. Women’s empowerment and a more gender-equitable environment will help women to complete education and enter the labour force. Women’s empowerment is often inversely correlated with fertility rates,” explains Alok Vajpeyi, Lead—Core Grants & Knowledge Management, Population Foundation of India.
Adolescent pregnancy entails devastating consequences for girls, and conflict against such harassment increases the risks of sexual violations and ill health. Apart from pregnancy, the girls suffer from grave human rights violations and severe social consequences, such as child marriage, intimate-partner violence, and mental health issues. And much worse, many girls tragically die, during the delivery, or after due to inadequate health care provisions and, in some cases, outright neglect.
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