A new UN report says that the number of girls giving birth before the age of 15 in sub-Saharan Africa will increase to more than three million by 2030 unless urgent action is taken to end the practice of child marriage.
The United Nations Population Fund annual report says that if current trends continue, the number of girls under 15 having babies in Africa is projected to increase by over a million from 1.8 in 2010 to three million over the next 17 years.
This would take the estimated total number of under-18s giving birth in sub-Saharan Africa to more than 16 million by 2030, up from 10.1 million in 2010.
“The economic impact of adolescent pregnancy can be enormous.,” the report says. “In a large economy like China, the lifetime opportunity cost related to adolescent pregnancy equals an estimated 1 per cent of annual GDP, or $124 billion. Even in a smaller economy, like that of Uganda, the costs can amount to as much as 30 per cent of GDP—or about $15 billion.”
The report, Motherhood in childhood: Facing the challenge of adolescent pregnancy, said major changes were needed to address the issue of teenage pregnancies, which have resulted in around 70,000 adolescents in poorer countries dying annually in childbirth or through pregnancy-related complications.
UNFPA says that instead of blaming girls and trying to change their behaviour, the underlying reasons for pregnancy in the young needed to be tackled.
These include stopping girls leaving school too young, providing quality sex education and access to health services, educating boys and men about girls’ rights, and enforcing laws against child marriage.
Despite international commitments to end the practice, one in three girls in developing countries is married before the age of 18.
“Education prepares girls for future jobs and livelihoods, raises their self-esteem and status, and gives them more say in decisions affecting their lives,” the report says.
“Education also reduces the likelihood of child marriage and delays childbearing.” But equally important is for all countries to enact laws against child marriage and enforce those on the books.
Girls are often denied the right to decide when, and if, they had children because in many countries and communities they are still regarded as unequal to boys, says the report.