Press Conference by Deputy Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund

30 October 2013

Press Conference by Deputy Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund

30 October 2013
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Deputy Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund

Ending child marriages, both in law and practice, and giving both boys and girls unfettered access to comprehensive sexual education, health services, reproductive choices and contraception would curb adolescent pregnancy worldwide, a senior United Nations population official said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Kate Gilmore, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), presented UNFPA’s State of the World Population 2013 report, entitled, Motherhood in Childhood:  Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy, saying it was a clarion call to Governments, health and education systems, community leaders and families everywhere  to “step up and change the face of adolescent pregnancy”.

She said that, every year, 7.3 million girls under the age of 18 gave birth in developing countries.  Of this amount, 2 million were under the age of 15; if current trends continued, this number could rise to 3 million annually in 2030.  Fully, 90 per cent of these births occurred within marriage or a union.

Every day, 39,000 girls were married, in violation of their basic human rights, she said.  Adolescent pregnancy was more common among marginalized and those subjected to discrimination in education and health care.  Girls were forced into early motherhood through sexual violence, forced marriage and the failure of communities to protect their rights and well-being.  Moreover, some 70,000 adolescents died every year in developing countries due to childbirth-related causes.

In a large economy like China, the World Bank estimated that the lifetime opportunity cost of adolescent pregnancy equalled 1 per cent of annual gross domestic product (GDP), or $124 billion, she said.  In a smaller economy, like Uganda, the cost could amount to as much as 30 per cent of GDP or about $15 billion.  Adolescent pregnancy and childbirth account for nearly $11 billion per year in costs to taxpayers in the United States.

Moreover, if adolescent girls in Brazil and India had been able to wait to have children until their early 20s, those countries’ economic productivity would top $3.5 billion and $7.7 billion, respectively, she said.

Responding to questions, Ms. Gilmore stressed the need to keep pregnant and married girls in school to enable them to complete their education and acquire skills.  She urged communities to change their attitudes, gender norms and behaviours towards early pregnancy, marriage and sexual coercion.

She also called on Governments and non-governmental organizations to build gender-equitable societies, in which men and boys were committed to empowering girls, promoting their human rights and protecting them against child marriage.  Governments must also protect girls in ethnic minority communities or marginalized groups and those with limited or no access to sexual and reproductive health, who were at greater risk.

Some Governments had taken steps to prevent adolescent pregnancy and support pregnant girls, but those measures had not addressed its underlying causes, which required holistic approaches, partnerships and collaboration with local communities, especially in developing countries.  In that regard, UNFPA was doing its part to mobilize civil society through programmes, funding and sensitization campaigns nationally and locally.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.