Childbirth-related complications are the number one cause of death among adolescent girls ages 15–19. Every year an estimated 14 million girls in this age group give birth. The actual rate of pregnancy among adolescent girls is likely to be even higher. Many pregnancies among adolescents are uncounted because pregnancies among this age group are often not carried to term. In developing countries, approximately one-third of adolescent girls give birth before their 20th birthday.
There are several factors that increase adolescent girls’ risk of early or unintended pregnancy, including poverty, gender inequality, lack of education, and early marriage. The same factors that increase the likelihood of early or unintended pregnancy among adolescents are further exacerbated by the occurrence of early or unintended pregnancy. For example, girls who become pregnant are more likely to leave school early, have a lower income, and have more children at shorter intervals throughout their lifetime. In contrast, young women who avoid unintended pregnancy are more likely to stay in school; participate in the work force; and have healthier, more educated children.
Unintended and early pregnancy is preventable. Interventions to help girls stay in school and delay marriage can have numerous positive effects on the lives of young women, including decreasing their risk of unintended pregnancy. Proven interventions such as comprehensive sex-education for both in-school and out-of-school youth, as well as improved access to contraception (including condoms), can vastly reduce high rates of pregnancy among this age group.
Strategic investment must be made to curb the multiple vulnerabilities that place girls at risk of unintended pregnancies, pregnancy-related complications, and death. Strategies to reduce the number of pregnancies among adolescents include:
- Expanding access to youth-friendly reproductive health services
- Supporting comprehensive sexuality and family life education
- Promoting programs that keep girls in school
- Expanding interventions that prevent early marriage
- Enforcing laws against child marriage
- Increasing attention to the reproductive health needs of married adolescents
- Improving girls’ economic opportunities
- Targeting gender inequalities
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