Impacts

All teenage pregnancies, irrespective of the outcome, have adverse consequences for the girls, the parents and the communities.

Maternal health: Adolescent pregnancy is dangerous. As it is demonstrated in the document “A glimpse into the World of Teenage pregnancy” (UNICEF 2010), the poorest girls in the poorest communities in Sierra Leone are most likely to become pregnant during adolescence, with serious long-term and wide-ranging consequences – from health complications (for the young mother and the baby) to broader economic concerns. Indeed, pregnancy is the leading cause of death for adolescent girls and the youngest girls are particularly at risk (WHO, 2012, Maternal Mortality Global report). Adolescents, and particularly young adolescents, are more likely to have long and obstructed labors due to their smaller size and immature pelvic structure. This not only increases their risk of death, but also their risk of developing fistula. Finally, unsafe abortion kills many pregnant adolescents; it is estimated that one-third of teen pregnancies in the world end in abortion (WHO 2012, Adolescent Pregnancy Fact Sheet).


The poorest girls in the poorest communities in Sierra Leone are most likely to become pregnant during adolescence, with serious long-term and wide-ranging consequences – from health complications

Newborn health: Babies born to adolescent mothers are also at greater risk. A recent systematic review found that adolescent pregnancy was associated with premature delivery, stillbirth, fetal distress, birth asphyxia, low birthweight, and miscarriage. Babies born to teen mothers are also far more likely to die than those born to older women. “Stillbirths and death in the first week of life are 50% higher among babies born to mothers younger than 20 years than among babies born to mothers 20–29 years old.” (WHO, 2012).

A recent systematic review found that adolescent pregnancy was associated with premature delivery, stillbirth, fetal distress, birth asphyxia, low birthweight, and miscarriage.

Education: Teenage pregnancy is also identified as a determinant for school drop-out of girls. In general, boys and girls have the same chances of accessing primary Grade 1 but disparities appear in the course of schooling careers, in favor of boys. At the end of upper secondary, access rates are estimated at 32 percent for boys against just 14 percent for girls. The untimely pregnancy of young girls is ranked as the third most common reason for them dropping out of school (UNICEF 2008). Moreover, the high rate of teenage pregnancy, both in primary and secondary school, has had a discouraging effect on many families when it comes to education. For poor families who are “taking a chance” on sending their girl child to school, their untimely pregnancy led to younger siblings being denied access to school.

Psychological and social impact: In-depth interviews (UNICEF 2010) with teenage mothers and pregnant teenagers reveal a feeling of isolation, ‘being trapped’ and helplessness. Teenage mothers or pregnant teenagers have no one to talk to about what they are going through. There is very little or no psychosocial support for pregnant teenagers during the pregnancy or after the birth of their child. Ethnographic research (Wessels 2011) highlight that girls consistently identified the inability of a pregnant girl or young mother to continue school as one of the most harmful and psychologically distressing aspects of early pregnancy. The strain in the relationship with their parent(s) due to untimely pregnancy, the dissatisfaction with the amount of education they received, and the inability to receive consistent and quality health care are some of the factors that contribute to the feeling of depression. Ethnographic research (Wessels 2011) also found that early teen pregnancy out of wedlock was a significant source of family discord and even violence. These dynamics heighten the psychosocial distress that is caused by teenage pregnancy out of wedlock.

Economic development: The impacts of adolescent pregnancy are felt far beyond the walls of the family home. It also has a demonstrable impact on the social and economic development of communities and countries (Bruce and Bongaarts, 2009). A report by the World Bank highlighted the lifetime opportunity costs of adolescent pregnancy on national economies. They ranged from 1% of gross domestic product (GDP) in China to 12% in India, and 30% in Uganda. In India, adolescent pregnancy was estimated to lead to “over $100 billion in lost income, an amount equivalent to twenty years of total humanitarian assistance world-wide”. (Chaaban and Cunningham, 2009).

The impacts of adolescent pregnancy are felt far beyond the walls of the family home. It also has a demonstrable impact on the social and economic development of communities and countries

Much of this impact is channeled through girls’ education; each extra year of schooling a girl receives is estimated to raise her income by 10–20% (Patrinos, 2008), with returns on girls’ education being higher than those of boys. There is a strong evidence base demonstrating that keeping girls in school and delaying their first pregnancy is a win–win situation, which has the potential to cascade through generations.