The UN Population Fund released its annual flagship State of the World’s Population report today. This year’s theme: adolescent pregnancy. The report, Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy, finds that 7.3 million girls under 18 give birth, and of these 7.3 million births 2 million are to girls 14 or younger. This puts them at very high risk of various pregnancy complications and dying during childbirth.

These teen pregnancies are not equitably distributed across the globe. Rather, as to be expected, poorer countries tend to have much higher rates of adolescent childbirth. Niger ranks the worst, where over half of girls become mothers before the age of 18. (Click on the chart for a better view)

Screen shot 2013-10-30 at 1.38.27 PMSo what can be done? The most basic answer is to increase access to education and family planning, and to target those interventions to young women and girls.  From the report:

Despite the critical need to prevent adolescent pregnancy, Motherhood in Childhood finds that the global community directs less than two cents of every dollar spent on international development to adolescent girls. This is especially troubling, considering we have the largest adolescent population in human history.

However, money is just one part of the solution. UNFPA is promoting a holistic approach to tackling the challenge of adolescent pregnancy, which does not dwell on changing the behaviour of the girl, but rather on changing the attitudes and actions of the society she lives in. This includes:

• Keeping girls in school
• Stopping child marriage
• Changing attitudes about gender roles and gender equality
• Increasing adolescents’ access to sexual and reproductive health, including contraception
• Providing better support to adolescent mothers

“We must reflect on and urge changes to the policies and norms of families, communities and governments that often leave a girl with no other choice, but a path to early pregnancy, “said Dr. Osotimehin. “This is what we are doing at UNFPA and what we will continue to do and recommend until every girl is able to choose the direction of her life, own her future and achieve her greatest potential.”

Read the full report.

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