Teenage Pregnancy – An Overview
“Reducing teen pregnancy and birth is one of the most effective ways of reducing child poverty in the country” – Jordan Brown
Teenage pregnancy defined as a teenage girl, usually within the ages of 15-19 becoming pregnant (UNICEF). According to the world wide statistics of WHO, about 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 years and two million girls under the age of 15 give birth every year. Worldwide, one in five girls has given birth by the age of 18. In the poorest regions of the world, this figure rises to over one in three girls. Almost all adolescent births (about 95%) occur in low- and middle income countries. Within countries, adolescent births are more likely to occur among poor, less educated and rural populations.
As we are falling under the category of developing countries; teenage pregnancy is one of the significant issues in Sri Lanka. There is a consistent declining trend in pregnancies among women under the age of 20 that was observed from the year 2000 to 2006 and during the period of 2007 to 2010. The percentage of teen pregnancies in 2000 was 8.1 percent and in 2006, 5.4 percent. In 2007 it was 7.7 percent and in 2010, 6.5 percent. Our statistics revealed that over 121, 164 teenage pregnancies had been reported from Sri Lanka from January to June in 2008 alone. Director of Family Health Bureau Dr. Deepthi Perera said that currently there is a declining trend in teenage pregnancies. Even though according to Family Health Bureau (FHB), over 384,000 teenage pregnancies were reported in Sri Lanka during 2012. Statistics from Jaffna district secretariat shows that 346 teenage pregnancies were recorded from January 2011 to October 2011 with in Jaffna district. Out of this 114 are unmarried children. 68 teenage pregnancies were reported only during September and October months in 2011. Actual number of cases is assumed more than the reported cases in the district.
The numbers are declining even though a significant population is facing the problem and also the outcome of these teenage pregnancies is causing a negative impact on the individual as well as to the community. Researches indicate that teen pregnancy and motherhood can have detrimental socioeconomic and psychological outcomes for the teen mother, her child, and her young siblings.
Teenage mothers are at a high risk of being prone to physical and largely mental health risks. Mentally, they are not ready or in a position to face the higher demands of the baby. Even for breastfeeding, they have to be supported by an elder and often they avoid breast feeding. This could result in the baby being not healthy and being highly vulnerable to diseases which could mostly result in deaths. Children of teenagers were more likely to have low birth weights and to suffer the associated health problems.
Causes for the teenage pregnancies are multidimensional. It includes the individual as well as the social and economical factors in it. National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), Chairperson, Anoma Dissanayake said that 90 percent of teenage pregnancies occurred because of love affairs which did not have parental approvals and the other 10 percent is due to rape.
Teen pregnancies may result for different reasons in developed countries as compared to developing countries. UNICEF list the common factors that contribute to teenage pregnancies include:
- Adolescent sexual behavior which may also be influenced by alcohol and drugs
- Lack of education and information about reproductive sexual health including lack of access to tools that prevent pregnancies
- Peer pressure to engage in sexual activity
- Incorrect use of contraception
- Sexual abuse that leads to rape
- Exposure to abuse, violence and family strife at home
- Low self esteem
- Low educational ambitions and goals
In case of Jaffna rape, love affair, early marriage and poor education are the social factors causing teenage pregnancies. Majority of the people who are pregnant are the school dropouts. According to former Government Agent Imalda Sukumar the main reason that children have dropped their studies is due to poverty. From the researches done by Prof. Daya Somasundaram he found that war conflicts is one of the major factors causing a mark deterioration in social values which increased unwanted pregnancies, teenage pregnancies, teenage abortion and child sexual abuse.
Prevention of the teenage pregnancy is not only depends on the healthcare workers but also depends on the active participation of parents/guardians, teachers and other social workers.
WHO published guidelines on how to prevent early pregnancies and poor reproductive outcomes among adolescents in low- and middle-income countries. The guidelines were based on a systematic review of the existing research as well as consultation with policy-makers, programme managers and front-line health workers. They contain evidence-based recommendations on actions that countries can take, targeting six key objectives:
- Reducing marriage before the age of 18
- Creating understanding and support to reduce pregnancy before the age of 20
- Increasing the use of contraception by adolescents at risk of unintended pregnancy
- Reducing coerced sex among adolescents
- Reducing unsafe abortion among adolescents
- Increasing the use of skilled antenatal, childbirth and postnatal care among adolescents.
Most of the identified causes for the teenage pregnancy are modifiable. The preventive measures should be implemented to prevent the devastating effect of teenage pregnancy in the future generations.
- UNICEF Fact sheet Young people and family planning: Teenage pregnancy (July 2008)
- The Humanitarian news letter (April 2012)
- WHO Fact sheet Adolescent pregnancy (May 2012)
- Collective trauma in Sri Lanka by Prof Daya Somasundaram
This article by V.Aravinthan (34th batch) was appeared in the Second MSU Newsletter published in March 2014.