​​Adolescents (The term “adolescent” refers to people between the age of 10-19, according to a 1998 joint statement by WHO, UNICEF and UN Population Fund.), children 10-19 years old, are not physiologically mature for childbearing; early childbearing is associated with high levels of maternal mortality and morbidity, low birth weight and higher risk of infant mortality. In addition, there are many socio-economic benefits to delaying early childbearing with better opportunities to improved education, avoidance of repetition, reduction of drop-out rates and an increased chance to acquire skills and knowledge for her and her family’s future life.

As access to education has increased and the benefits of postponing childbearing have become more widely known, unwanted pregnancies have declined in most countries. The use of contraceptives and demand for access to contraception have increased in equal measure, particularly among unmarried women in many parts of the world. Still, the proportion of unsafe abortions with extreme health risks remains high. Survey data indicate that the proportion of young mothers with unwanted pregnancies varies widely within and between regions. In Sub-Saharan Africa around 11-13 % of pregnancies are unwanted in Niger and Nigeria, compared to 50% or more in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Female children are underrepresented in primary level enrolment. Globally 46% of enrolled children are females with more differences to be found in the poorest countries. Some two thirds of females are not enrolled in secondary school and those that are enrolled often drop out. The reasons for drop out are many including the involvement in waged labor, the high direct and opportunity cost of schooling, gender biased curriculum, and teaching practices including discrimination of girls and premature fertility.  Young women with low levels of educational and economic attainment often experience restricted ability and motivation to regulate their fertility, resulting in higher rates of early pregnancy. The cycle is further perpetuated as young women who are in school are forced to discontinue their education when they become pregnant, thereby greatly restricting their economic opportunities.

In Jamaica adolescent pregnancy has long been a serious concern. In 1977 the proportion of births to teen-age mothers rose to 31% of all births, often following a pattern of 3-4 children before the age of 20. Since 1977 the Women’s Center of Jamaica Foundation have started a quality program with the objective of motivating young mothers to choose education instead of continuous motherhood. They have since helped over 22,000 mothers return to the school system. Figures for 1997 show that the program reached 51% of the 3,016 mothers under 16 who gave birth in the country. The achievement include:
  • A decrease in negative societal attitudes displayed towards the teen mother
  • The breakdown of the barriers within the ministry of education and the changes in the education code to allow teenage mothers to return to the school system
  • A decline in the teen pregnancy rate from 31% in 1977 to 23% in 1997
Other important outcomes are that all children to mothers in the intervention group are in school and that no pregnancies have occurred in the adolescent children of women who participated.

There is a need to prevent unwanted early pregnancies through policies in schools that include family life education and family planning in secondary school curriculum. Reduction of risk behaviors through a skills based health education is the most effective approach. Young women with higher levels of education are more likely to postpone marriage and childbearing. Fertility levels among the least educated and the most educated women in Peru differ by 5 children. In Guatemala adolescent birth rates are higher among those with no schooling. Adolescents who postpone childbirth are five times more likely to finish their secondary education.

Case studies from Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire show that for a girl, an unplanned pregnancy could mean shame for the family, an end to her education and rejection by the baby’s father. Often she is blamed by her friends and is discriminated against.

Health related policies, supported by the community, PTA, and schoolchildren that will ensure that a pregnant girl can stay in school and continue her education, are essential to improve girls’ educational outcome and fight exclusion and discrimination.

  • Do not exclude pregnant girls from school.
  • Encourage students to come back to school after childbirth.
  • Include family life education in the curriculum
  • Prohibit all kinds of discrimination based on gender​