Feature Story

04 November 2013

More than 7 million girls in poor countries give birth before 18 each year

Launch of the State of World Population Report 2013

Ha Noi, 4 November 2013 - “If we are equipped with adequate, timely and youth-friendly information and services on sexual and reproductive health, we will have a better understanding and knowledge of safe sex and how to protect ourselves from unwanted pregnancies", shared Ms Nguyen Thi Ly, a young single mom from Hoa Binh province, Viet Nam.Ly website

Ly was 17 years when she came to Ha Noi with good hope to find a decent job. But life in Ha Noi was not as beautiful as expected. She opened a small shop, although running it wasn't easy. Then she got a boyfriend, they were in love for two years when she got pregnant. She did not have any ideas or information to protect herself from avoiding unexpected pregnancy. When she informed her boyfriend about the news, he told her: him or the baby. She was surprised and disappointed, but decided to keep the baby. Now, as a single mom she is facing many difficulties in taking care of a five months old baby daughter without any career or income. Her parents and relatives have to support her and the child. 

Findings of global report
Ms Nguyen Thi Ly was one of the young mothers attending the release of UNFPA's State of the World Population 2013 report. According to that report adolescent pregnancy, or motherhood in childhood, is a huge global problem, especially in developing countries, where 7.3 million girls under 18 give birth every year.

Of these 7.3 million births, 2 million are to girls 14 or younger, who suffer the gravest long-term health and social consequences from too early pregnancy. The report, entitled “Motherhood in childhood: facing the challenge of adolescent pregnancy”, places particular emphasis on these girls who are at double risk of maternal death and obstetric fistula when their bodies are not yet ready to bear a child.

According to the report, early pregnancy takes a toll on a girl’s health, education and rights. It also prevents her from realizing her potential and adversely impacts the baby. But it is not just mothers and babies that suffer consequences. Children having children also severely impacts communities and nations’ economies with loss of economic productivity when adolescent mothers drop out of school and workforce.

"Motherhood in childhood” offers a new perspective on adolescent pregnancy, looking not only at the girls’ behavior as a cause of early pregnancy, but also at the actions of their families, communities and governments. 

Boys and men equally responsible

IMG 9946 websiteAt the event, UNFPA Representative Arthur Erken said "too often, society blames only the girl for getting pregnant. 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. So, let's never forget that girls don’t get pregnant themselves. Boys and men are equally responsible when girls get pregnant, and so boys and men must become part of the solution to end teen pregnancies."

Findings in Viet Nam
In Viet Nam, according to national data, the unmet need for contraceptives is still 35.4 per cent amongst young people aged 15–19 and 34.6 per cent of young people aged 20–24 years. In 2011, the overall adolescent birth rate in Viet Nam was 46 per 1,000 live births. This rate was found to be higher among groups with lower levels of education, poorer living standards, and ethnic minority backgrounds, located in the Northern midland and mountainous regions, and the rural areas.

Although Viet Nam has made impressive progress on reducing maternal mortality and increasing access to reproductive health and family planning services in the past decades, more than a third of young Vietnamese still lack access to the contraception they need. As a result, the rates of unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions are still high amongst young girls, especially among those who are unmarried.

To ensure that Viet Nam achieves the 5th Millennium Development Goal on reducing maternal mortality in every commune by 2015, greater efforts need to be devoted to enhancing the quality of sexual and reproductive health services for the most disadvantaged groups. This also requires strengthening the knowledge, skills and attitudes among all public and private sexual and reproductive health care service providers for better services for unmarried young people.