Globally in 2021, an estimated 14 per cent of adolescent girls and young women (below 18 years of age) gave birth to a child.
According to the 2020 Brazilian Conanda Report on Early Childhood, of every 5 babies born in Brazil, 1 is a child of an adolescent mother. The number of adolescents from the ages of 15 to 19 years old who become pregnant in Brazil is 8 times higher than in Germany and 10.5 times higher than in France. Almost a thousand adolescents (930) give birth every day corresponding to 434,500 new adolescent mothers every year in Brazil. That number was higher in the past but is now falling. Over the last 15 years in the South, South East and Central West regions of the country, there has been a drop in the numbers of early teenage pregnancy. In the North and North East, however, there has been an increase. Brazil registers one of the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy when compared to other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, with 68.4 live births per 1000 adolescents and young people.
The Causes of Early Pregnancy
Trusted research shows that certain issues can contribute to early unplanned pregnancy. Often young mothers are from low-income families. The 2020 Conanda report says that for many adolescent women, pregnancy has little to do with voluntary and informed choices. It may be the consequence of gender inequalities, discrimination (7 out of every 10 adolescent mothers are black), rights violations (including child marriage and sexual exploitation), inadequate education or lack of prospects. In a BBC Online article in 2020, Katy Watson wrote about this issue. She quotes Danie Sampaio: "We need to talk more with women to break down taboos and beliefs that constrain women, beliefs that are just passed on by their mothers and grandmothers". A macho culture and hyper-sexualisation of women in Brazil are the biggest obstacles to bringing teenage pregnancies down. There may be a low openness in families to dialogue about sexuality and the risks of early pregnancy. This lack of dialogue is correlated with the risk of pregnancy as adolescents initiate sexual practices. There is also a tendency to resist asking partners to use contraceptive interventions and behavioural habits may have an association with alcohol and drug consumption.
The Consequences of early pregnancy
Early childbearing, or pregnancy and delivery during adolescence, can derail girls’ otherwise healthy development into adulthood and have negative impacts on their education. That has an impact on their livelihoods and health. Young pregnant girls are, frequently, pressured to drop out of school, which can impact their educational and employment prospects and opportunities. The social consequences for girls, may include reduced status in the home and community, stigmatization, rejection and violence by family members, peers and partners, and early and forced marriage. Young girls, especially those in early adolescence, are particularly vulnerable to the health consequences of pregnancy and delivery as their bodies may not be physically ready. Obstetric fistula, eclampsia, puerperal endometritis and systemic infections are just some of the serious conditions that they may face in the short- and long-term. The Conanda report shows that, in general, the younger these adolescent women are, the later they realize that they are pregnant and the later they seek health care services. Incomplete or inadequate prenatal care contributes to higher risk of maternal and neonatal mortality, as well as mortality among the children of adolescent mothers in their first two years of life.
Working with early unplanned pregnancy
In 2022, Happy Child supported a pilot project to engage with the issue of unplanned early pregnancy. During the first year our support enabled the project to reach 20 young girls between the ages of 16 to 20 who had become pregnant, assisting them with practical and emotional support. Not only that, each young mother and father needs to think about how they want to raise that baby and how they will plan for future babies (or how to prevent undesired pregnancies) in ways that will guarantee the wellbeing of the children and family.
One of the project goals was also to campaign in local schools and civil society organisations to reach 400 young people about the potential risks of early unplanned pregnancy through conversations with at risk young people, both male and female. Prevention and early care interventions, these are the two key concepts Projeto Acolher is promoting.
Written by Caroline Taylor