To mark World Population Day Thursday, the United Nations called attention to the plight of the 16 million teenage girls who give birth each year.
"Adolescent pregnancy is not just a health issue, it is a development issue," said UNPF Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin in a statement. "It is deeply rooted in poverty, gender inequality, violence, child and forced marriage, power imbalances between adolescent girls and their male partners, lack of education, and the failure of systems and institutions to protect their rights."
In the developing world, more young girls die from pregnancy and childbirth complications than any other cause, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Their babies, who are more likely to be born too soon and too small, die at higher rates than those born to older women.
These are the five countries with the highest teenage fertility rates:
Niger has both the world's highest teen pregnancy rate and the world's highest child marriage rate. By the time they turn 18, 75 percent of girls are married and 51 percent have borne a child.
The vast majority of teen mothers in the developing world are married. Child brides are less likely to get maternal health care than older women, according to a recent study from the University of California, San Diego, and Boston University. Researchers estimated a 10 percent reduction in child marriage could lead to a 70 percent reduction in a country’s maternal mortality rate.
In an attempt to boost the chances that mothers will make it through delivery in Niger, the UNPFA recently created 11 “husband schools,” where men gather twice monthly to learn about reproductive health. One result of the program, reported one wife: men are starting to take their wives to the health center.
Forty-seven percent of Chad's women have a baby before they turn 18.
Chad's Ministry of Health recently named maternal mortality as one of the country's "most extensive and severe problems." A woman living in Chad has a 1 in 14 chance of dying in childbirth. Most likely to die? Poor, uneducated teenagers who are not yet fully developed.
Less than half of the country's wealthiest women give birth under the supervision of a skilled health worker, according to UNICEF. But with 80 percent of the population living under the poverty line, most have even less access to health care. Among poor women, just 1 percent get help.
In Mozambique, where 41 percent of women have a baby before they turn 20, UNICEF lists pregnancy as one of the country's biggest obstacles to girls’ education. Just 17 percent of girls make it to secondary school.
“When my belly started to grow, I felt like I could not be in the same classroom as my friends anymore," a young Mozambican mother, who got pregnant in the sixth grade, told UNICEF. "I was ashamed of the state I had put myself into."
Education is key in addressing the problem of teen pregnancy, United Nations Secrety-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday.
"We must get girls into primary school and enable them to receive a good education through their adolescence," he said. "When a young girl is educated, she is more likely to marry later, delay childbearing until she is ready, have healthier children, and earn a higher income."
In Mali, 55 percent of women marry before they reach adulthood. About 40 percent have children.
Less than 8 percent of married Malian adolescents use contraceptives, according to UNFPA. Eighty-two percent of those who don't use contraceptives wish they could.
"Meeting the reproductive health needs for today’s young people is vital to ensure future generations are able to lead healthy and dignified lives," wrote Ariel Pablos-Mendez, USAID's assistant administrator for global health, in a blog post. "Lack of information, fear of side effects, and other barriers—geographic, social, and economic—prevent young people from obtaining and using family planning methods."
A decade after a 14-year civil war, Liberia remains in the grip of a child-rape epidemic. A high teen pregnancy rate is part of the fallout. Thirty-eight percent of Liberian women have a baby before they turn 18. Research shows close to 20 percent of those pregnancies are the result of rape.
Traditionally women pass childrearing practices to their daughters, but many families have been separated by war, IRIN reported. Made mothers too young, many Liberian teens struggle to care for their children.
“There was a breakdown in families, girls were being raped and their parents killed,” James Fireman, manager of a Action contre la faim (ADF)-supported feeding centre in Liberia, told IRIN. “If you don’t have a family to teach you caring practices, how will you learn how to raise a child?”