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  • U.N. Cites Teen Pregnancy's Harm to Developing Nations

    by Sara Schaefer Munoz - The Wall Street Journal 10/31/13
    Wall Street Journal=



    The rate of pregnancies in adolescent girls has started to fall in many developing countries, but remains a stubborn problem that damages girls' health and hinders economic productivity, the United Nations said.

    Each year roughly 7.3 million girls give birth when they are below the age of 18, and two million of those are younger than 15, says a report released on Wednesday by the New Your-based United Nations Population Fund, which promotes global reproductive health. Ninety-five percent of those girls live in developing countries.

    The percentage of women surveyed in 54 countries who reported giving birth before age 18 fell to 20% from 1997 to 2011, down from 23% from 1990 to 2008, attributed in part to fewer arranged marriages and greater access to education.

    West and Central Africa have the largest percent of women, 28%, who reported a birth before age 18. In East and Southern Africa it is 25% of women, and South Asia, 22% the report found. The U.S. leads the world in teen pregnancies in developed countries, the report says, although U.S. government data show the rate is at a record low. For girls ages 15 to 19, it fell to 29.4 births per 1,000 in 2012 from 31.3 per 1,000 in 2011.


    Teen Pregnancy's
    Expectant mothers gathered at the entrance of a maternity home in Jinotega, Nicaragua, last week.

    The report's data come from interviews with women age 20 to 24, in order not to violate privacy of young girls, researchers said.

    The U.N. report also illustrates the extent to which teen pregnancies perpetuate poverty and harm a country's economic productivity. Brazil, for example, would have additional productivity equal to #3.5 billion a year if teenage girls delayed pregnancy until their early 20s, the report says, while India's would be $7.7 billion higher.

    Younger mothers also are at higher risk of health problems. Unregulated abortions also injure and kill pregnant teens. The report estimates that 70,000 adolescents die each year form causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.

    Teen pregnancies, especially among very young girls, "are not the result of deliberate choice...Pregnancies are generally the result of an absence of choices" and reflect powerless and poverty, the report says.

    "It takes a big tool. Every adolescent that gets pregnant is a hit on growth for herself, for her community and her country," said Babatunde Osotimehin, the agency's executive director. "I travel around the world, and many countries have made progress in development, but this is one area that seems to be resistant."

    In Latin America, births to girls under the age of 15 rose slightly, despite falling elsewhere, the report found. The percentage of woman in Latin America who say they gave birth by age 15 ticked up to 2.1% from 1997 to 2011, from 1.9% from 1990 to 2008, the report said. While it is a small rise, the rate in developing countries overall fell to 3.3% from 4% during the same comparative periods, the agency said.

    Officials said the Latin America data show pockets of deep poverty have continued to fester, or worsen, even as the region has grown economically.

    "There's a lack of opportunities that very young adolescents have in terms of education and jobs, and the society expects them to become mothers," said Laura Laski, the agency's head of sexual and reproductive health. "Girls are also vulnerable in communities where there is sexual abuse, but where it isn't recognized as abuse."

    In some areas, access to contraception and education has helped, but cultural norms can block progress. In places where sexual relations between adolescents and men at least 10 years older are common the power in the relationship gives the girl less of a voice in family planning, U.N. researchers say.

    The report notes the overall impact of pregnancy is often passed down to the child, "who starts life at a disadvantage, perpetuating an intergenerational cycle of marginalization, exclusion and poverty."

    The report calls for programs aimed at getting girls schooled, helping them set long-term goals, and promoting equality. Reproductive education should be expanded for boys and men, too, it says.


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    Education is the key...Adolescent pregnancies continue the spiral of poverty. Opportunity Education works to break the poverty cycle with female education and empowerment. OE has affiliations with foundations Empower Women in Africa and Wanawake Na Maendeleo (WAMA) Foundation that share this vision to educate young women.