Rights groups have called for stronger policies to help young African girls easily access sexual and reproductive health information and services as part of a plan to contain unwanted pregnancies, which hinders socio-economic transformation.
Approximately 95 per cent of teenage pregnancies occur in developing countries with 36.4 million women becoming mothers before the age of 18, according to Mark Bryan Schreiner, the Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to Rwanda.
Sub-Saharan Africa is believed to have the highest prevalence of teenage pregnancies in the world.
Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the second cause of death among 15- to 19-year-olds, with approximately 70,000 adolescents affected annually, Schreiner said.
“Harnessing the full potential of youth requires that they are fully engaged, educated and healthy. When teenage pregnancy occurs, a girl’s healthy development into adulthood is side swiped and her chances of achieving her full potential are placed at serious risk,” Schreiner said.
The UNFPA representative was speaking at the Youth Connekt Africa Summit 2018 Health Session held under the theme; “Straight talk: Transforming Africa through the prevention of teen pregnancy.”
The event was hosted by Imbuto Foundation.
Geraldine Umutesi, Deputy Director General of Imbuto Foundation, noted that that teenage pregnancy in Africa is a “pertinent issue” that deserves focused attention and innovative interventions, which made the topic timely
“Teen pregnancy has a ripple effect, which touches various sectors in our countries. It raises questions about our health and education systems, and the standard of living of all Africans,” Umutesi said.
She noted that as much as young girls mainly bear the brunt, teen pregnancy also affects the boys, parents and entire communities as well.
“To the young girls,” Mutesi says, “it often means an interruption of their educational aspirations, a life of discrimination and stigma from their families, friends and communities.”
Mutesi’s comments were echoed by Schreiner.
“It is imperative to foster an enabling environment for their participation in development – to address discrimination against youth, meet their multi-sectoral needs; promote and support youth-inclusive legislative and policy frameworks; enable the opening of new spaces for their engagement and leadership; mainstream them in all relevant aspects of development and peace; and work with them as advocates and equal partners for change,” Schreiner said.
He also noted that young people often face barriers to sexual and reproductive health information and services.
“Making them extremely vulnerable to unintended pregnancies, which impede their ability to access education and employment.”
Lack of access to contraception leads to 7.4 million unintended pregnancies among adolescents aged 10 to 19 worldwide, according to official data.
“Investing in teen pregnancy prevention contributes to realising the SDGs as it improves their health, education and facilitates more gender-equal relationships, Schreiner stressed.
He added, “But it also means that public policy action is equally needed to address the social, cultural and economic challenges many young mothers face. It is an essential strategy that contributes to reducing poverty, and upward economic development; including reaping the benefits of the demographic dividend.”