Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy

Why does preventing adolescent pregnancy matter?

Adolescent pregnancy is a global public health and human rights concern. Each year in low- and middle-income countries, more than 7 million girls ages 18 or younger give birth; 2 million of these young mothers are under age 15. Childbearing is one of the leading causes of death among adolescent girls and can result in lasting physical, social, and economic harm to both the young mothers and their children. 

Key messages

  • Girls ages 10 to 14 are at heightened risk of negative health outcomes as a result of pregnancy.
  • Girls who give birth before the age of 18 miss important educational, social, and economic opportunities, thereby limiting their own potential and that of their children.
  • Married adolescents need access to rights-based, youth-friendly information and services in order to plan their pregnancies and have safer births.

Definitions

Adolescents: The United Nations (UN) defines adolescents as people between the ages of 10 and 19 years old.

Very young adolescents: The UN defines very young adolescents as people between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. The period of life between 10 and 14 years of age is also referred to as early adolescence.

Overview

Every day, 20,000 girls younger than 18 give birth in low- and middle-income countries.

Which girls are the most at risk?

Ninety-five percent of adolescent pregnancies occur in resource-poor settings. Girls who are married, out of school, belonging to an ethnic minority, or living in rural areas are also at heightened risk. In fact, 9 out of 10 births to adolescents occur within marriage or union.

What factors contribute to adolescent pregnancy?

In many resource-poor settings, girls have very little autonomy. At the onset of puberty, girls are often forced to abandon school and are pressured into marriage. When a girl marries early, rarely is she able to determine when and how often she will become pregnant. Girls’ access to reproductive health services also is often severely limited.

Health consequences of adolescent pregnancy

  • Each year, 70,000 adolescent girls die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Unplanned pregnancies result in approximately 3 million unsafe abortions among adolescents ages 15 to 19 each year.
  • Girls under 15 years are at increased risk of maternal and infant morbidity and mortality.
  • Infants born to mothers younger than 18 are at 60% greater risk of dying in the first year of life than those born to mothers older than 19.

Social and economic consequences of adolescent pregnancy

Adolescent mothers are often forced to leave school, resulting in social isolation, low educational attainment, and exclusion from civic and vocational opportunities.

What is needed?

The drivers of adolescent pregnancy are multidimensional and so must be the solutions. Policies and programs must do the following:

  • Design programs that are age disaggregated and tailored to the unique needs of older, younger, married, and unmarried adolescent girls.   
  • Help create policies that protect girls against child marriage; enlist stakeholders to enforce these policies; and engage men and boys as allies.
  • Work with girls, their families, and other community stakeholders to keep girls in school longer. Educational attainment is correlated with increasing the age of marriage and first birth.
  • Increase girls’ reproductive health knowledge and expand their access to services.
Topic last updated: July 10, 2017