Youth Troubles (3) – Teenage Pregnancy
August 12 is International Youth Day. This week we look into the troubles and struggles of the youth du jour.
This week’s feature “Youth Troubles” will look into works of art on the internet that address these concerns.
Today we look into Teenage Pregnancy.
by Andrea Montano
a culturally complex issue
An estimated 16 million girls aged between 15 and 19 give birth every year, with 95% of these births occurring in developing countries, according to the review done by Rosen. This makes up 11% of all births worldwide. However, global averages mask important regional differences. Births to adolescents as a percentage of all births range from about 2% in China to 18% in Latin America and the Caribbean. Worldwide, just seven countries account for half of all adolescent births: Bangladesh, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and the United States of America.
Although the circumstances of adolescent pregnancy vary greatly, some commonalities stand out: younger bodies are not fully developed to go through the process of pregnancy and childbirth without adverse impacts. Adolescent mothers face a higher risk of obstructed labour than women in their twenties. Without adequate emergency obstetric care, this can lead to uterine rupture and a high risk of death for both mother and infant. For those who survive, prolonged labour can cause obstetric fistula, which is a tear between the vagina and the bladder or the rectum, causing urine or faeces to leak. In Ethiopia and Nigeria, more than 25% of fistula patients had become pregnant before the age of 15 and more than 50% before the age of 18. Although the problem can be rectified with surgery, treatment is not widely available in most countries where fistula occurs and millions of women are left to suffer with a condition that leads to incontinence, bad odours and other side-effects including psychological problems and social isolation.
“A lot of very young pregnant women have no access to facilities to reach professionals able to solve their obstructed labour,” says Dr Luc De Bernis, a senior maternal health adviser at UNFPA, based in Ethiopia. Given that girls in many countries marry very early, even before they start menstruating, “you can imagine that when they become pregnant they are very, very young, 13 or 14 years old,” de Bernis says. “If you go to the fistula hospital in Addis Ababa, the girls are very young and small, and you understand the magnitude of the problem. It’s a disaster.”