Around one-fifth of all adolescents become pregnant in Africa, according to a study published in the journal Reproductive Health. This issue is not exclusive to Africa alone, however. Almost one-tenth of births across the globe are two women aged under 20, with over 90% of these occurring in developing countries. Two reasons for this phenomenon are the younger onset of menarche and the improved nutrition available to younger generations. The question remains: what can African countries do to help lower the rate of teen pregnancies and ensure young women obtain the education and support they need to prosper?
Teen Pregnancies are a Social Problem, Too
Teen pregnancies should be considered a health problem for Africa, because they are linked to a higher rate of maternal and infant mortality. They are also closely tied in to problems during pregnancy, including preterm birth, low birth weight, and hypertensive disorders. Teen pregnancies have important socio-economic consequences, owing to factors such as disrupted schooling for young mothers, the greater likelihood of teens having more children early, and lower workforce participation. Research shows that the length of the time between births is key to economic prosperity, as a woman’s income increases significantly for each year a new birth is delayed.
Malnutrition Among Pregnant Teens in Africa
A study published this year in PLOS ONE found that malnutrition during pregnancy “remains unacceptably high across all regions of Africa”. The study showed that the rate of maternal malnutrition stands at 23.6%. The odds of malnutrition are higher among women living in households with a low economic status, those in rural areas, and those having two or more pregnancies. The physiological stress of pregnancy demands excellent nutrition, but young African women in their adolescence may lack the skills and awareness they need to stay healthy at this physically and mentally challenging time.
Preventing Teen Pregnancies in Africa
The first step that should be taken to prevent teen pregnancy through school and community-based family life education that promotes safe sex. Teens should be knowledgeable about different forms of contraception and should be discouraged from early marriage. They should know, in clear terms, the big economic impact that having children in adolescence can have on their entire lives.
Supporting Teen Mothers’ Health
Teen pregnancy in countries like Kenya is so prevalent that efforts to support mothers are lagging behind. In this country, one in five girls aged 15 to 19 has begun childbearing, with 50% of pregnancies being unplanned. Projects like the Sasa Mama Teen Project, founded in 2018, aim to understand the experience of teen moms and help them work through psychological anguish. The program founders have developed a ‘toolkit’ that aims to protect young moms against mental stress during pregnancy and early motherhood.
In South Africa, the organisation Mamkhulu.org holds camps for teen moms and babies, assisting them with life skills training and other skills development. The organization helps to teach girls how to make an income by creating arts and crafts. In Ghana, the group Feminine Star Africa supports the reentry of teenage mothers to school to “give them a second chance to live their dreams”. These and other organizations are all doing their share to help teen mothers obtain an education and decently paid work, but more needs to be done on a governmental level.
Teen pregnancy occurs at a significantly high rate in many African countries. Governments need to do their best to support the work of non-profit organizations, by increasing preventive and training/educational measures for youngsters and teen moms who have recently had children. Teen moms need to feel confident about achieving all their goals, postponing future pregnancies for a time in which their economic stability is greater.