The world currently has the largest generation of 10 to 24 year-olds in human history. Though adolescent populations are generally relatively healthy compared to other age groups, adolescents face unique challenges that can have serious implications for their physical and mental health throughout their life course, as well as effects on the health of their future offspring. In some regions, sexual and reproductive health problems including HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are major causes of adolescent mortality and morbidity. Across the globe, unsafe sex is a leading risk factor for death and disability among both male and female adolescents ages 15 to 19 years old. Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, forced marriage, unwanted pregnancy and unmet need for contraceptives and safe abortion.
In 2015, 19.4 million girls between the ages of 10 and 19 years gave birth, 480,000 of whom were younger than 15 years old. The vast majority of births among adolescents occur in low-resource settings, often as a result of societal factors including gender inequality, poverty and a lack of access to education and reproductive health services. Between 1995 and 2011, roughly one in five girls living in developing countries became pregnant before she turned 18 years old. Early pregnancy increases the likelihood of contracting an STI, dropping out of school, experiencing mental health issues and developing life-threatening childbirth-related complications.
A number of interventions aimed at addressing these challenges have been implemented in diverse settings, but many of them have not been rigorously evaluated. Further research is required to better understand the local needs of adolescents and identify effective strategies to improve their sexual and reproductive health. Developing interventions focused on addressing mental health issues in adolescent populations is also essential given that self-harm is the leading cause of death among adolescent girls. Increased efforts to meet the health needs of adolescents are critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and represent a worthwhile opportunity for investment.
- Knowledge summary #35: Act now for adolescents
The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health | 2016
- Our future: A Lancet commission on adolescent health and wellbeing
The Lancet | June 2016
- Global standards for quality health care services for adolescents
World Health Organization | 2015
- The global strategy for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health (2016-2030)
Every Woman Every Child | 2015
- Factors influencing utilisation of maternal health services by adolescent mothers in low-and middle-income countries: A systematic review
BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth | February 2017
- Motherhood in childhood: Facing the challenge of adolescent pregnancy
UNFPA | 2013
- Improving adolescent sexual and reproductive health: A systematic review of potential interventions
Journal of Adolescent Health | October 2016
- The causes of maternal mortality in adolescents in low and middle income countries: A systematic review of the literature
BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth | November 2016
- An African demographic dividend relies on investments in the reproductive health and rights of adolescents and youth
Population Reference Bureau | February 2017
- Young people’s sexual and reproductive health interventions in developing countries: Making the investments count
Journal of Adolescent Health | September 2016
- Adolescent girls in disaster & conflict: Interventions for improving access to sexual and reproductive health services
UNFPA | 2016
- Sexual and reproductive health and rights of adolescent girls: Evidence from low- and middle-income countries
Global Public Health | January 2015
Documents & Reports
Role of the MHTF
Meetings & Events
Several presenters at the 2015 Global Maternal and Newborn Health Conference, co-hosted by the MHTF, highlighted important issues related to adolescent sexual and reproductive health.
- Building a Monitoring and Accountability Framework for Adolescents | Matthews Mathai
- Health Challenges Faced by Adolescents Today | Laura Laski
- The Global State of Adolescent Health | Laura Laski
- Incidence of Abortion Among Adolescents, Worldwide: Levels and Recent Trends | Ann Starrs
- Non Health Sector Interventions for Adolescents | Ariadna Capasso
In July 2014, as a part of the Advancing Dialogue on Maternal Health Series, the MHTF hosted a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center to examine reproductive health challenges among married adolescents.
In June 2013, as a part of the Advancing Dialogue on Maternal Health Series, the MHTF hosted a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center focused on the issue of child marriage.