© The Financial Times Ltd 2015 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
October 30, 2013 11:26 am
Governments must shift efforts to reduce pregnancy among very young women to those that build girls’ human capital instead of simply trying to prevent adolescent pregnancy or to support girls that bear children while they are still children themselves, a new UN report has urged.
In its annual State of the World Population for 2013, the UN Population Fund found that everyday, roughly 20,000 girls below the age of 18, most of them in the developing world, give birth and that 90 per cent of these occur within a union or a marriage. Girls under the age of 15 account for more than a quarter – about 2m of 7.3m annually – of new adolescent mothers and this number could rise to more than 3m by 2030.
“In every region of the world, impoverished, poorly educated and rural girls are more likely to become pregnant than their wealthier, more urban and more educated counterparts,” the UNFPA concluded in its report, ‘Motherhood in Childhood’. Countries’ efforts to address adolescent pregnancy have failed to address the underlying causes including gender inequality, poverty, sexual violence and coercion, child marriage, social pressures and stereotypes about adolescent girls. About 70,000 deaths a year in the developing world are attributed to causes stemming from pregnancy and child birth.
The challenge of adolescent birth is considered an economic issue because it squanders human capital at an early age. When adolescent girls are pressed into marriage, they are far less likely to complete education, a trend that leads to lower levels of productivity later on in life. Raising levels of education is considered essential for many developing economies where increases in population are outstripping productivity growth and failing to raise economic output per capita in line with neighbouring countries.
The study also found that when young girls are married off to men who are at least 5 to 9 years older than themselves, and more than 10 years older, they are far more likely to give birth to babies in adolescence. For example, when young women in Burkina Faso are up to 4 years younger than their partner, 21.5 per cent report a first birth before the age of 18. But when they are at least 10 years younger than the man, that percentage jumps to 38.5 per cent.
In every region of the world, impoverished, poorly educated and rural girls are more likely to become pregnant than their wealthier, more urban and more educated counterparts
- UNFPA report
The study noted that in some countries, the prevalence of very young motherhood is striking; one girl in 10 has a child before the age of 15 in Bangladesh, Chad, Guinea, Mali, Mozambique and Niger, countries where child marriage is common. In Bangladesh, Chad and Niger, more than one in three girls is married before her 15th birthday.
And a review of UN data on fertility shows that all six are countries where, in stark contrast to trends not only in the industrialised world but also among developing nations, overall fertility rates have fallen very little.
Worldwide, fertility rates – the number of live births per woman – has fallen from 4.97 in 1950-55 to 2.53 in 2005-10, UN data show. In the developing world they have more than halved from 6.08 per woman to 2.97 births per woman in 2005-10.
But in each of those six countries, all of which have unusually high rates of birth among women aged 15 to 19, fertility rates have barely budged. Of the six, Bangladesh has seen the greatest decline in fertility from 4.61 births per woman in 1985-86 to 2.32 today. But in Chad, for example, the fertility rate has actually risen from 5.08 per woman in 1963 to 6.34 per woman in 2002-05. In Mali and Niger, the fertility rate has barely budged over the past two decades, with rates of 6.72 and 7.5 per woman in the early 1990s to the most recently recorded fertility rates of 6.57 and 7.02 respectively.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.
Sign up for email briefings to stay up to date on topics you are interested in