The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released its 2013 State of the World Population Report, which examines the challenges of adolescent pregnancy. When a girl becomes pregnant, her present and future prospects change dramatically, and rarely for the better.
Photo: A young Ugandan patient at the Kinaaba Health Center II.
Many countries have taken up the cause of preventing adolescent pregnancies, usually through behavior-change programs.
Photo: A Ugandan health centre includes a ward where women in their final stages of pregnancy can remain comfortably and avoid arduous travel once labour begins.
Such approaches are misguided because they fail to account for the circumstances and societal pressures that conspire against adolescent girls and make motherhood a likely outcome of their transition from girlhood to womanhood.
Photo: A young mother outside the Kinaaba Health Centre.
When a young girl is forced into marriage, for example, she rarely has any say in whether or how often she will become pregnant.
Photo: While her husband holds their youngest child, Twesigye Christente waits to receive a long-acting contraceptive at the Kinaaba Health Center II in Uganda.
Instead of viewing the girl as the problem and changing her behavior as the solution, governments and communities must see poverty, gender inequality, discrimination, lack of access to services, and negative views about girls and women as the real challenges.
Photo: A female doctor discusses Family Planning Issues with women at Mchinji Hospital in Malawi.
Credit: UNFPA/Nadine Azifan
The girls with the greatest vulnerabilities, and who face the largest risk of complications and death from pregnancy, are 14 and younger. This group is typically overlooked or out of reach of national health, education, and development institutions, often because they are in forced marriages and are prevented from attending school or accessing reproductive health services.
Photo: Insertion of contraception implant by midwives in training in Benin.
Adolescent pregnancy is intertwined with human rights. A pregnant girl who is forced to leave school, for example, is denied her right to an education. A girl who is forbidden from accessing contraception is denied her right to health.
Photo: Midwifery students in Uganda.
The pursuit of social justice, equitable development, and the empowerment of girls is the true pathway to fewer adolescent pregnancies.
Photo: Young Kenyans work in a youth center in downtown Nairobi.
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