A new report by the UN population fund (UNFPA) – State of World Population 2013: Motherhood in Childhood – highlights how teenage girls from impoverished or rural regions are much more likely to become pregnant than girls from wealthier or urban areas. Pregnancy can then have a huge and immediate effect on a girl’s health, education and life chances. For example, 70,000 adolescent deaths are caused each year from complications due to pregnancy and childbirth, since younger girls face greater health dangers when giving birth. Girls who become pregnant before the age of 18 are also frequently unable to continue with their education, limiting their income-earning abilities and life chances.
In Madagascar, more than one in three girls become pregnant before the age of 18. Since more than half the island’s population is under 20, the rising number of adolescent pregnancies is putting huge pressure on the country’s health care system. The UNFPA report includes the story of one young Madagascan woman who was married at 12 years old and had her first child when she was just 13. “I had problems giving birth,” admits the young mother, who did not go to school like her two older brothers. Now, at the age of just 25 years, she has three girls and is pregnant for the fourth time.
Helping girls choose when to start a family
In his recent lecture about population growth on BBC2, Professor Hans Rosling examined how increased education for girls in developing countries leads to women marrying later and having fewer children. However, where girls are born into extreme poverty, they are often unable to continue at school and encouraged or forced into early marriages.
In some countries, as the Professor noted in an article for the BBC, there are also cultural issues which need addressing. So for example in Madagascar, talking about sex still remains taboo in many communities and young girls have little access to reliable information or family planning services and advice. A UNFPA press release highlights the work of one local project set up to tackle this problem.
A 23-year old Madagascan has launched a social media project called Tanora Garan’Teen (Guarantee for Youth). This provides young people with information on sexual and reproductive health using platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Since the project began, the organisers say they have reached more than 10,000 people and been able to encourage the younger generation to talk about vitally important health issues. UNFPA hopes that such initiatives will help young girls in Madagascar to stay on in education and make informed choices about when to start a family.