UNFPA’s 2013 State of the World Population Report Puts ‘Motherhood in Childhood’ in Focus

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By: Sarah Blake, MHTF consultant

In this year’s annual State of the World Population, UNFPA focuses on the issue of early childbearing. The report finds that not only are 7.5 million births to girls under the age of 18 every year, but 2 million are to girls aged 14 and younger. In “addressing the challenge of adolescent pregnancy,” UNFPA argues, this group requires special attention. Yet, as the report further notes, they are often left out of programs aimed at preventing early childbearing.

In his foreword to the report, UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotomeihin highlights the specific need to focus attention on girls 14 and under – the most vulnerable to maternal mortality and severe morbidities, such as obstetric fistula .He writes:

“This group of very young adolescents is typically overlooked by, or beyond the reach of, national health, education and development institutions, often because these girls are in forced marriages and are prevented from attending school or accessing sexual and reproductive health services. Their needs are immense, and governments, civil society, communities and the international community must do much more to protect them and support their safe and healthy transition from childhood and adolescence to adulthood. In addressing adolescent pregnancy, the real measure of success—or failure—of governments, development agencies, civil society and communities is how well or poorly we respond to the needs of this neglected group.”

Along with documenting the distribution of adolescent births around the world, the report underscores the critical need to focus on the context in which adolescent girls become mothers, and to tailor policy and programs accordingly.