World Population Day: UN spotlights teen pregnancy and need to empower girls

World Population Day 2013 - Spotlight on Adolescent Pregnancy. Credit: UNFPA

11 July 2013 – United Nations officials marked World Population Day today by spotlighting the issue of adolescent pregnancy, and calling on Governments to take measures to enable girls to make responsible life choices and realize their potential.

About 16 million girls under age 18 give birth each year, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which noted that another 3.2 million undergo unsafe abortions.

The vast majority – 90 per cent – of the pregnant adolescents in the developing world are married. But for far too many of these girls, pregnancy has little to do with informed choice, said the agency. When we devote attention and resources to the education, health and well-being of adolescent girls, they will become an even greater force for positive change in society that will have an impact for generations to come.

UNFPA pointed out that adolescent pregnancy is a health issue: the youngest mothers face a heightened risk of maternal complications, death and disability, including obstetric fistula. Their children face higher risks as well. It is also an issue of human rights: adolescent pregnancy often means an abrupt end of childhood, a curtailed education and lost opportunities.

“This sensitive topic demands global attention,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the Day, observed annually on 11 July.

To address the problems associated with adolescent pregnancy, Mr. Ban stressed the need to get girls into primary school and enable them to receive a good education through their adolescence. “When a young girl is educated, she is more likely to marry later, delay childbearing until she is ready, have healthier children, and earn a higher income.”

He also cited the need to provide all adolescents with age-appropriate, comprehensive education on sexuality, stating that this is especially important to empower young women to decide when and if they wish to become mothers. Also vital is providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, as well as the maternal health services that women need.

“When we devote attention and resources to the education, health and well-being of adolescent girls, they will become an even greater force for positive change in society that will have an impact for generations to come.”

UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin stated that adolescent pregnancy is not just a health issue, but also a development issue.

“It is deeply rooted in poverty, gender inequality, violence, child and forced marriage, power imbalances between adolescent girls and their male partners, lack of education, and the failure of systems and institutions to protect their rights,” he said in his message for the Day.

“Breaking the cycle of adolescent pregnancy requires commitment from nations, communities and individuals in both developed and developing countries to invest in adolescent girls, he said. Governments should enact and enforce national laws that raise the age of marriage to 18 and should promote community-based efforts that support girls' rights and prevent child marriage and its consequences.

“Today, we call on Governments, the international community and all stakeholders involved to take measures that enable adolescent girls to make responsible life choices and to provide the necessary support for them in cases when their rights are threatened,” said Dr. Osotimehin.

“Every young girl, regardless of where she lives, or her economic circumstances, has the right to fulfil her human potential. Today, too many girls are denied that right. We can change that, and we must.”


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