When children give birth to children, the often inevitable result is the perpetuation of the poverty cycle.
In the world’s poorest countries, the probability of a 15-year-old dying during or after childbirth is one in 150. Among all developed countries, the risk is one in 3,800. Here in Canada, by comparison, overall maternal mortality is about 12 per 100,000 live births.
In fact, according to Save the Children, pregnancy is the foremost killer of teenage girls worldwide. A life event that is very natural in grown women turns deadly among girls, causing injury or death among one million teens every year.
The witty and irreverent heroine of 2007's Oscar-winning film about a pregnant teenager, Juno, had it pretty good in comparison to many of the 20 per cent of girls who give birth before their eighteenth birthdays.
The organization’s report, Every Woman’s Right: How Family Planning Saves Children’s Lives, was released this week close on the heels of the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development—where family planning and women’s rights were poignantly downplayed in the final agreement.
The agreement maintained advocacy for universal access to family planning, but dispensed with language on “access to reproductive health services.”
Advocates from several groups, including The Elders (a club of the global communities’ most celebrated changemakers, including Gro Harlem Brundtland and Desmond Tutu), have called the decision a backstep.
Women or sexually-active girls without access to contraception or who are discouraged from seeking it may find their bodies and lives endangered unnecessarily. Yet, teenage pregnancy doesn’t only endanger the mother, but contributes to child mortality, too.
“Babies are 60 percent more likely to die if their mother is under 18,” said Save the Children UK chief, Justin Forsyth.
For instance, The Hindu reports that infant mortality rates in India are higher among babies born to teenage mothers—77 deaths per 1,000 live births, as compared to the overall rate of 47 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Intertwined with these consequences is a major root cause of teenage pregnancy—child marriage. It is estimated that 10 million girls under age 18 are married every year. Girls must not be seen as financial burdens to their families, and married off early. Gender equality in schooling, support to poor families and improvements to the status of girls and women can help mitigate the occurrence of child marriage.
In other words, it is in humanity's power to avert the deaths of 50,000 teenage girls each year.
In fact, meeting all needs for contraception and better spacing of pregnancies can prevent millions of unnecessary deaths each year, including 30 per cent of maternal deaths and a quarter of all child death, according to Save the Children’s report
Declines to fertility and slowing population growth can also yield benefits for development, it adds. A stage of demographic transition (change in population makeup) where a country goes from high birth and death rates to low birth and death rates has accounted for 25-40 per cent of economic growth in some countries.
Without attention to child marriage, teenage pregnancies, family planning and gender equality, progress toward the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 deadline will surely be further derailed.
World leaders will have the opportunity to make inroads next month when they gather for a family planning summit hosted by the British government and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.