2013 World Population Day is themed around adolescent pregnancy.
As the world commemorates this year’s World Population Day, themed around adolescent pregnancy, experts from across the world have joined their voices in saying ‘no’ to early marriage.
The experts mentioned early marriage as one of several social, cultural and economic factors responsible for adolescent pregnancy.
According to the experts, adolescent pregnancy does not only add to the rate of maternal mortality, it also leads to school drop-out, increased incidence of sexually transmitted infections, STI, and jeopardises the ambitions and potentials of girls. They also called for actions to improve adolescent sexual and reproductive health education on this year’s world population day.
The 2005 National HIV/AIDS and Reproductive Health Survey revealed that 73 per cent of girls between the ages of 13 and 19 years are married in the North-Eastern States of Nigeria. The number of married adolescents in North West and North East Nigeria make up about 42 per cent of the total number of Nigerian married adolescents aged 15 – 19, contributing an estimated 71 per cent of the annual births by Nigerians in the 15 – 19 age group.
The United Nations in addition reiterated that complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death of girls aged between 15 and 19 years in developing countries. Of the 16 million adolescent girls who give birth annually, about 90 per cent are already married.
Early marriage was equally identified as a major cause of why Nigeria may not meet her target at drastically reducing and subsequently eradicating maternal and child mortality by 2015 otherwise called Millennium Development Goal, MDG, 4 and 5 respectively. The MDGs 4 and 5 respectively call for a two-third reduction in maternal mortality and a three-fourth reduction in child deaths by 2015.
Experts lament situation
Speaking in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, Babatunde Osotimehin, said the continued occurrence of child marriage was a major contributor to the hindrance of the achievement of the MDGs.
“If child marriage is not properly addressed in Nigeria alongside other sub-Saharan African countries, the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs 4 and 5 will not be met,” he said.
He further revealed that complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15-19 in developing countries. These complications may cause obstetrics fistula, illness, injury and death.
“Adolescent pregnancy is not just a health issue, it is a development issue. It is deeply rooted in poverty, gender inequality, violence, child and forced marriage, power imbalances between adolescent girls and their male partners, lack of education, and the failure of systems and institutions to protect their rights,” Mr. Osotimehin emphasized.
Globally, about 16 million girls under age 18 give birth each year and 3.2 million undergo unsafe abortions. In Nigeria, 60 per cent of unsafe abortions are among young people, according to a study by Campaign Against Unwanted Pregnancy, CAUP, in 2006.
A recent study conducted in Lagos State late last year, however, describes a more grisly picture. The study revealed that 45 per cent of female deaths in the state were as a result of unsafe abortions with adolescents being most of the victims.
Also, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, estimates about 50, 000 adolescent deaths, almost all in low and middle income countries.
“Child marriage makes girls far more vulnerable to the profound health risks of early pregnancy and child birth just as their babies are more vulnerable to complications associated with premature labour,” UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, added.
Mr. Osotimehin, who is a former minister of health, noted that ending child marriage would also help countries achieve other MDGs aimed at eradicating poverty, achieving universal education and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
Also speaking in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Minister of State for Health, Muhammed Pate, said, “Nigeria is completely off-track in achieving MDG 5 but isn’t alone. The rest of the world is also affected but in our own case child marriage is one of the challenges that we are working conscientiously to end if we would make meaningful progress in achieving MDG 5.”
According to the UNFPA, between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls will become child brides, if current levels of child marriages hold, while 14.2 million girls annually or 39,000 daily will marry too young. It added that “of the 140 million girls who will marry before they are 18, 50 million will be under the age of 15”.
The UNFPA also disclosed that despite the physical damage and persistent discrimination to young girls, little progress has been made toward ending the practice of child marriage.
It said, “In fact, the problem threatens to increase with the expanding youth population in developing world.”
As the way forward, Lakshmi Sundaram, Global coordinator of the group: Girls Not Brides, said, “The needs of adolescent girls were overlooked in the
MDGs; they must have a central place in any new goals set by the international community.”
Ms. Sundaram advised other African nations to emulate the steps of Malawi where major strides had been taken to reduce the incident and prevalence rate of child marriages. She said other countries could emulate Malawi by “providing free universal access to primary education; work with chiefs to sensitize their communities about the importance of sending children to school, with an emphasis on the girl-child.”
“Implement a policy that allows girls who become pregnant during school to go back to school after delivery to continue their education; work with parliamentarians to raise the age at marriage to 18 years by 2014 and provide youth friendly health services. This outreach would empower youths with the information that would enable them to make informed choices about their reproductive health,” she said.
Speaking on why eradicating child marriages is very crucial, Catherine Hara, Malawi’s Minister of Health, said, “From our experience in Malawi, where at least half of young women are married before the age of 18, I can tell you categorically that teenage pregnancies contribute to 20-30 per cent of maternal deaths. By ending early marriages, we would be averting up to 30 percent of maternal deaths and also reduce the neonatal mortality rates in various African countries. This would be quite impacting.”
United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, in his message for the World Population Day 2013 expressed the need to devote attention and resources to the education, health and wellbeing of adolescent girls for sustainable positive change in society.
“On this World Population Day, let us pledge to support adolescent girls to realize their potential and contribute to our shared future,” he said.
On his part, Programme Director, Development Communications, DevComs, Network, Akin Jimoh in his message on this year’s World Population Day said young girls are vulnerable to sexual violence when they are ignorant of their rights. According to him, there is a need to empower young girls with adequate information about their health and well-being.
To address the challenges posed by adolescent pregnancy, the Nigerian Urban Reproductive Health Initiative, NURHI, in a statement on the World Population Day 2013, recommended access to sexual and reproductive health information, provision of youth – friendly health services, and participation of young people in all decision making processes and programming.