Teenage pregnancies and its prevalence
Essay from Jeremiah Lucas Opira Memorial Contest 2023
Author: Ocaya Jonathan Gerald
Winner, Category 2
Teenage pregnancy refers to female adolescents becoming pregnant between the ages of 13-19. Although precisely not a teenager, a young girl under 12 or under who is pregnant also falls into this definition of teenage pregnancy. Teenage pregnancy is also widely known as adolescent pregnancy; the World Health Organization (WHO) defines adolescence as a period between the ages of 10 and 19 years.
Pregnancy, however, can occur with intercourse after the start of ovulation which can be before the girl’s first menstrual period which is called menarche but usually after the onset of the period. In healthy, well-nourished girls, the first period usually takes place around the age of 12.
The teenage pregnancy rate of 25% in Uganda is worrying though it may seem low compared to 28% in sub-Saharan countries, west and central Africa. Teenage pregnancy in Uganda is higher in rural areas or communities as compared to its prevalence developed towns and cities. The Eastern region of the country earmark this phenomenon which includes districts such as Kapchorwa, Mbale and Jinja amongst others. An average of 1000 teenage pregnancies are reported each day in Uganda according to the Ministry of Health data. Moreso, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) in 2018 estimated one in four (25%) of Ugandan women has given birth by the age of 20. The high prevalence of adolescent motherhood in Uganda, and the Busoga region in particular, is worrying and raises public health concerns and the causes ranges from family setting, peer, community or culture and the individual as well, perhaps the causes are explained in brief below.
Customs and traditions
In some cultures, customs and traditions lead to early marriage which would therefore lead to early or teenage pregnancy. In these cases, there is laxity and freedom to marry or bear children and perhaps pregnancy at whatever age is acceptable and is often intentional; they are also occurring in developing countries such as India and sub-Saharan Africa.
Drugs and alchohol abuse
Drugs and alcohol abuse is one of the causes of teenage pregnancy. During adolescence, teenagers may drink and experiment with drugs frequently with their friends at social gatherings and parties. Teens, however, do not realize the impact alcohol and drugs have on the functioning of their brain, especially the effects of binge drinking, which is consuming large amounts of alcohol during one sitting. Drinking excessively, as well as experimenting with drugs, may lead to unwanted and unintentional pregnancies. These substances greatly affect a teen’s ability to logically think and carry out a general thinking process which increases the risk of them engaging in unprotected and unsafe sexual activities.
Low socio-economic status
Teens who become pregnant often come from families of low socio-economic status. Growing up, these children often come from families that are struggling from poverty and do not have all the necessary resources to raise their child. These children grow up to have low educational goals and successes because of the lack of involvement from their own parents. These young kids are then predisposed to a negative environment and will end up with low ambition to succeed in school and instead start making friendships with other teens who are going through similar conditions/situations as them. With all these, early pregnancy is mostly made possible in such a setting in the community.
Low socio-economic status is further linked to low levels of family connectedness. This means that children/youths growing up in these homes do not have strong role models or individuals to look up to or learn from within these families, abuse is often prevalent and predisposes youths to unsafe and troubling conditions. This lack of family connectedness pushes youths away from confiding in the adults within their homes and towards other troubled youths struggling in the same way. This separation or the gap within its family might lead to poor decision-making as there is little or ever no guidance from elders.
Lack of knowledge about reproduction and contraceptives
With their lack of knowledge about reproduction, these teens engage in unprotected and unsafe sexual activity. They do not know how to avoid a pregnancy, or they simply engage in intercourse at very young ages and may have multiple partners which further leads to increased chances of pregnancy.
These teens do not know about the availability of contraceptives, nor do they explore their options. Even when adolescents can obtain contraceptives, they may lack the agency or the resources to pay for the knowledge of where to obtain them and how to use them correctly. They may face stigma when trying to obtain them. 23 million girls aged 15-19 years in developing regions have an unmet need for modern contraception. As a result, half of pregnancies among girls (15-19 years) are estimated to be unintended according to research by Guttmacher Institute in 2026.
Furthermore, they are at a higher risk of discontinuing use due to side effects and due to ever-changing life circumstances and policies regarding the provision of contraceptives based on age or marital status pose an important barrier to the provision and uptake of contraceptives among adolescents. This is often combined with health worker bias and/or lack of willingness to acknowledge adolescent’s sexual health needs.
Peer pressure is another major cause of teenage pregnancies. Often, females may be on tenterhooks as though being forced by an older male partner to engage in sexual activity. Discovering this with her fellow females arises various decisions because these friends may unfortunately encourage her to her to give in to the sexual call from the boy. She is then trapped between a rock and a hard place and if she decides poorly, it’s her dead end.
Early/teenage pregnancy is heavily linked to early sexual abuse of young females. Some children have unfortunately been sexually abused by “predators” or even family even prior to entering puberty. According to WHO, some girls are unable to refuse unwanted sex or to resist forced or coerced sex and that 1 in 20 girls (15-19 years) have experienced some form of sexual abuse. A WHO report from 2020 estimates that 120 million girls aged under 20 years have experienced some form of forced sexual contact. The abuse is deeply rooted in gender inequality which affects more girls than boys although many boys are also affected. They are often unable to inform a trusted adult about the situation due to fear of being harmed by their predator or the close family member; perhaps thet may not be able to obtain emergency contraception.
The media has a large effect on teenage pregnancies, especially shows such as “Teendom” and “16 and pregnant” among many other television shows. These shows, however, glamorize pregnancy and hide the true hardships associated with pregnancy which encourages many teens watching such to become pregnant.
Rebellion by the young females is also another reason why some want to become pregnant. This, perhaps, aids them to show their independence and deem themselves as having more control over their lives. These TV shows, however, glorify the idea of having a child through the promotion of these actors in the shows having a more adult lifestyle with more responsibility and decision-making power.
Moreso, others get pregnant because their pregnancy is wanted by themselves or by influential people around them.
Child and/or early marriage places girls at increased risk of pregnancy because girls who are married early typically have limited autonomy to influence decision-making about delayed childbearing and contraception use. Each day, 20,000 girls (below 18 years) give birth in developing countries. However, 9 in 10 of these births occur within a marriage or union, highlighting the scourge of child marriage.
Limited educational and employment prospects
In many places, girls become pregnant because they have limited educational and employment prospects. Other in such societies, motherhood within or outside marriage/union is valued, and marriage or union and childbearing may be the best of the limited options available to adolescent girls.
These causes, however, are a few examples amongst the many that have so far raised eyebrows but other factors such as pornography, lack of sexual and sexuality education, a family history of teenage pregnancies, high fertility rate/early onset of puberty, having friends who are sexually active, financial incentives, lack of spiritual life, low self-esteem and the lack of community coordinated programs for youths.
Adolescent pregnancy is a global phenomenon with clearly known causes and the consequences within areas such as health, social and finance for individuals, families and communities is widely known. There is consensus on the evidence-based actions needed to prevent it; perhaps there is a growing global, regional and national commitment to preventing child marriage, teenage pregnancies and childbearing at tender ages.
The section below has in greater depth explored options and other measures to curb this silent pandemic down:
- Different avenues should be set up, including schools and community gatherings to educate the masses about sexuality. They should offer sex education as well as create awareness of the many ways of preventing unwanted pregnancies and STDs.
- They should encourage formation of sustainable and empowered youth peer groups to allow adolescents to talk openly about their feelings and experiences related to sexuality.
- All stakeholders in this should join hands in carrying out sensitization to open eyes and clear minds on risks and/or dangers associated with unprotected sex and teenage childbearing. They ought to come against social-cultural resistance as regards to essential and “fragile” topics like sexuality.
- The government and other medical stakeholders should educate and advocate for the use of contraceptives and make them easily accessible. They, however, should shed all myths and social stigma associated with it. Teen pregnancy rates in France, Germany and the Netherlands are relatively lower than any country including the US because contraceptive pills and devices are covered under insurance.
- Empowering girls by offering support and protection within the community and the court of law as well as all in all legal arms of government. Moreso, the different stakeholders should create effective strategies that encourage gender equality, teach life skills, build self-esteem and improve social networks.
- Joint efforts should be made to change social norms and attitudes towards forced sex and sexual violence prevailing in society. The media play an important role in this.
- Parents/caregivers and community as well should send and keep girls in schools, so they are less likely to get married early. Education helps them take care of their families in a better way and positively impact society.
- Teenagers should be encouraged to always focus on their predetermined career goals and stay away from distractions. This, however, can be kept alive by timely career guidance and counseling.
- Parents/caregivers should monitor the type of content children watch, read or listen to. In addition to monitoring, they should further discuss what they are learning from these programs and perhaps develop a good relationship with them.
- National media campaigns should be used to promote low-risk sexual activities; this strategy is significant in France, the Netherlands and Germany.
- Male adolescents should be counseled about sexual health, risky behaviors, STIs and condom use as well as about different methods of contraception and postcoital contraception.
- Rapists and all other sexual crimes against girls and young women should be heavily condemned and highly punished by strong laws and long-term imprisonment.
- Parents and caregivers should know and stay updated on their children’s activities. They should get acquainted with the children’s friends and family. They, however, should talk to their friends to find the values they uphold.
Preventing teenage pregnancy has very many factors to it and they are all important because research shows that it can have adverse long-term consequences on society, health and the economy that include medical issues or complications during and after pregnancy. Adolescent mothers face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis and systemic infections whereas their babies face higher risks of low birth weight, preterm birth and severe neonatal conditions.
In addition to the above, these teen moms go through severe mental health condition that include:
- A difficulty bonding with their own babies
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Panic attacks
- Thoughts about harming the baby
- Suicidal thoughts escalates
- Higher rates of postpartum depressions and baby blues
- Trouble eating caused by skipping meals, dieting, food faddism and snacking
- They no longer find joy in activities the way they once did.
Young moms face excess stress as a result of sleepless nights, arranging childcare, making doctor’s appointments as well as attempting to finish high school.
Other key consequences include low educational achievement by the teen mother, reduced earning hence perpetrating poverty, economic stress, suicidal isolations (she feels judged and stigmatized) among others.
The WHO works with partners to advocate for attention to adolescents, to build the evidence and epidemiologic base for action, develop and test program support tools, building capacity and pilot initiatives in the small but growing number of countries that has recognized the need to address adolescent’s sexual and reproductive health. As a result of these efforts, adolescent health has moved to the center of the global health and development agenda. All these countries within or outside the UN has to address this effectively in the context of their respective national programs. NGOs have, however, in a number of countries led the effort. In other countries, the governments are taking the leading putting in place large-scale programs. They challenge and inspire other countries to do what is doable and urgently should be done. All these strategies and interventions related to teenage pregnancy have focused on pregnancy prevention. However, there is growing attention being paid to improve access to and quality of maternal care for pregnant adolescents.
To conclude this, society has to acknowledge that teenagers play an important role. Their well-being and education should be ensured since they have the potential to influence the country. Therefore, communities and families should work together to develop effective methods to curb teen pregnancies, lest they disrupt their education, careers, families and the nation at large.