Why boys and men have a role to play in reducing teenage pregnancies
- Each year, 21 million adolescent girls in developing countries become pregnant, including 10 million unintended pregnancies.
- Twelve million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 and 777,000 girls under the age of 15 give birth each year.
- The global adolescent fertility rate has declined 11.6 percent over the past 20 years to 42 per 1,000, but there are geographic disparities, with the sub-Saharan region leading at 101 per 1,000.
The sexual health of young people is a major global concern. Adolescence is the period between 10 and 19 years of age with particular physical, social, psychological, and reproductive characteristics, while teenage pregnancy refers to women who become pregnant at or before the age of 19.
Each year, 21 million adolescent girls in developing countries become pregnant, including 10 million unintended pregnancies. Twelve million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 and 777,000 girls under the age of 15 give birth each year. The global adolescent fertility rate has declined 11.6 percent over the past 20 years to 42 per 1,000, but there are geographic disparities, with the sub-Saharan region leading at 101 per 1,000.
An increase in teenage pregnancies has been observed in Kenya. Data from the World Bank shows that Kenya’s adolescent fertility rate was 74 per 1,000 in 2018, while in 2019, the Global Childhood estimated the national teenage pregnancy rate at 82 per 1,000 births. . So it’s not shocking to hear about a higher number of teenage pregnancies after the Covid-19 lockdown.
Factors that contribute to teenage pregnancies include lack of information about sexual and reproductive health and rights; insufficient access to youth-friendly health services; family, community and social pressure to get married; sexual violence; child, early and forced marriages; limited education and employment prospects; and peer pressure.
Intergenerational relationships where adolescent girls have limited say, transactional sex, unwanted sexual advances, coercive sex, unequal gender power relations and lack of autonomy, poverty, religious beliefs , the lack of guidance and guidance from parents are also to blame.
Other factors are parental neglect; deviation from traditional conservative societal values; poor comprehensive sex education; difficulties in accessing and using contraceptives, including misconceptions; the irresponsibility of men in sexuality; early sexual debut; inappropriate forms of recreation; alcohol consumption and drug addiction; low self-esteem; the increase in the use of mobile phones and social media; and restrictive laws and policies regarding contraceptive provision based on age or marital status.
Teenage pregnancy has dramatic effects on social, health and economic outcomes.
These include complications during pregnancy and childbirth, systemic infections and unsafe abortions which all contribute to death, illness and long-term health problems; low birth weight, premature delivery and severe neonatal conditions for newborns; repeated pregnancies; stigma, rejection or violence; the end of schooling compromising educational and employment opportunities, resulting in vicious circles of poverty; early marriages; and large families.
Currently, prevention programs are designed to increase abstinence, improve contraceptive use, provide comprehensive sexuality education and youth development, and change high-risk behaviors associated with teenage pregnancy.
Trends in teenage pregnancy could be reversed if a new policy architecture that affects and integrates prevention is urgently introduced, as well as mitigating the effects of pregnancy through care and protection.
While measures to curb teenage pregnancies have largely focused on women, it takes two to create a pregnancy. Therefore, boys and men should not only be held accountable for their sexual behavior, but also targeted with interventions.
Involving boys and men makes programming for girls more effective by addressing both sides of the teenage pregnancy equation. Measures to reduce teenage pregnancy should include: monitoring adolescent sexual activity and contraceptive use to help better understand the risk of pregnancy; community-based, male-led programs to educate adolescents about responsible manhood; integrate male minors into the criminal justice system in prevention efforts; campaigns to encourage adolescents to abstain from all sex and to use contraception if they are sexually active; enforcement of rape laws against adult men involved with younger underage girls; and have child protection policies and programs that incorporate specific elements on early sexual debut.
Parents need to be clear about sexual values and attitudes; talk with their children early and often about sex; supervise and monitor the activities of their children; get to know their children’s friends and families; discourage early, frequent and regular dating; take a firm stand against intergenerational relations; helping adolescents have options for the future that are much more attractive than early pregnancy and parenthood; highlight the value of education; know what their children watch, read and listen to; and strive to establish an open door relationship, firm in discipline and rich in communication with their children.
Mugambi is a public health specialist