Adolescent pregnancies

Key facts Adolescent Pregnancies

  • Approximately 12 million girls aged 15–19 years and at least 777,000 girls under 15 years give birth each year in developing regions. (1) (2)
  • At least 10 million unintended pregnancies occur each year among adolescent girls aged 15–19 years in the developing world. (1)

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  • Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for 15–19-year-old girls globally. (3)
  • Of the estimated 5.6 million abortions that occur each year among adolescent girls aged 15–19 years, 3.9 million are unsafe, contributing to maternal mortality, morbidity and lasting health problems.(1)
  • Adolescent mothers (ages 10–19 years) face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and systemic infections than women aged 20 to 24 years, and babies of adolescent mothers face higher risks of low birth weight, preterm delivery and severe neonatal conditions. (4)

Context

Adolescent pregnancies are a global problem occurring in high-, middle-, and low-income countries. Around the world, however, adolescent pregnancies are more likely to occur in marginalized communities, commonly driven by poverty and lack of education and employment opportunities.10

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Several factors contribute to adolescent pregnancies and births. In many societies, girls are under pressure to marry and bear children early.11,12,13 In least developed countries, at least 39% of girls marry before they are 18 years of age and 12% before the age of 15.14 In many places girls choose to become pregnant because they have limited educational and employment prospects. Often, in such societies, motherhood is valued and marriage or union and childbearing may be the best of the limited options available.12

Adolescents who may want to avoid pregnancies may not be able to do so due to knowledge gaps and misconceptions on where to obtain contraceptive methods and how to use them.15 Adolescents face barriers to accessing contraception including restrictive laws and policies regarding the provision of contraceptives based on age or marital status, health worker bias and/or lack of willingness to acknowledge adolescents’ sexual health needs, and adolescents’ own inability to access contraceptives because of knowledge, transportation, and financial constraints. Additionally, adolescents may lack the agency or autonomy to ensure the correct and consistent use of a contraceptive method.  At least 10 million unintended pregnancies occur each year among adolescent girls aged 15-19 years in developing regions.1

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An additional cause of unintended pregnancy is sexual violence, which is widespread with more than a third of girls in some countries reporting that their first sexual encounter was coerced.16

Health consequences

Early pregnancies among adolescents have major health consequences for adolescent mothers and their babies. Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15–19 years globally, with low- and middle-income countries accounting for 99% of global maternal deaths of women aged 15–49 years.3 Adolescent mothers aged 10–19 years face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis and systemic infections than women aged 20–24 years. 4 Additionally, some 3.9 million unsafe abortions among girls aged 15–19 years occur each year, contributing to maternal mortality, morbidity and lasting health problems.1

Early childbearing can increase risks for newborns as well as young mothers. Babies born to mothers under 20 years of age face higher risks of low birth weight, preterm delivery and severe neonatal conditions.4 In some settings, rapid repeat pregnancy is a concern for young mothers, as it presents further health risks for both the mother and the child.17

Social and economic consequences

Social consequences for unmarried pregnant adolescents may include stigma, rejection or violence by partners, parents and peers. Girls who become pregnant before the age of 18 years are more likely to experience violence within a marriage or partnership.16 Adolescent pregnancy and childbearing often lead girls to drop out of school, although efforts are underway is someplace to enable them to return to school after childbirth, this may well jeopardize girls’ future education and employment opportunities.19

Author WHO

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