More than 7 million girls under the age of 18 give birth each year in developing countries, facing grave physical and irreparable social consequences, according to a United Nations report released Wednesday.
About 2 million of these young women are age 14 or younger. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said this group faces the worst long-term social and health consequences from giving birth at such a young age.
An estimated 70,000 girls from age 10 to 19 die every year from complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
“A girl who is pregnant at 14 is a girl whose rights have been violated and whose future is derailed,” Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the fund’s executive director, told the Associated Press.
The UN study examined the births to women under 18 worldwide looking for a solution. What they found was largely a vicious cycle of human rights violations.
“Too often, society blames only the girl for getting pregnant,” Osotimehin wrote in the report. “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.”
These girls are at a great risk of maternal death and obstetric fistula, a debilitating condition that arises after some prolonged and obstructed labors. Many girls are left incontinent and suffer pain after childbirth. Many are pressured to leave school, and others have already been entered into child marriages — nine out of 10 adolescent births occurred within a formal union, reported the AFP.
“Early pregnancies reflect powerlessness, poverty and pressures — from partners, peers, families and communities,” the report said. “And in too many instances, they are the result of sexual violence or coercion.”
In addition to sexual violence, the report says poverty, poor education, a lack of contraception and the practice of child marriage all play a role.
Teen pregnancy is also a drain on the economy in developing countries.
“Children having children severely impacts communities and nations’ economies,” the report said. “If adolescent girls in Brazil and India had been able to wait until their early 20s, the countries would have greater economic productivity equal to over $3.5 billion and $7.7 billion, respectively.”
“The birth or pregnancy in one adolescent is unacceptable,” Osotimehin told the press in London. “One. Whether it’s going up or down is not the issue — 7.3 million is huge.”
UNFPA said the only way to solve this “huge global problem” is to change social attitudes to better support teen mothers.
“Childhood must never be derailed by motherhood,” the report said.
They urge efforts to educate women about sexual health, keep them in schools, and put an end to child marriage.
“We must reflect on and urge changes to the policies and norms of families and governments that often leave a girl with no other choice but a pathway to early pregnancy,” Osotimehin said.