SE Asia accounts for 60 lakh teenage pregnancies every year: WHO

New Delhi: About 60 lakh teenage girls, aged 15 to 19, give birth every year in the South East Asia region, including in India, said Saima Wazed, WHO Regional Director for SE Asia on Thursday.

She was speaking at a two-day regional dialogue on adolescent pregnancy organised by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia (UNICEF ROSA), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Kathmandu, Nepal.

The Regional Director stated that the increase in adolescent pregnancy is closely linked to child marriage — a common harmful practice in the region, driven by underlying social, cultural, and gender norms.

“Child marriage is a violation of girls’ fundamental human rights. It curtails their ability to make choices and enjoy high standards of physical and mental health. It impedes their education and often hampers them from owning property,” Saima said.

She added that it raises significant gender as well as health challenges, including high mortality, and morbidity rates.

“Adolescents under 16 years face four times the risk of maternal death compared to women over 20 years.

“Nearly 670 adolescents die every day, mostly from preventable causes” in the region.

Besides increasing the risk of domestic violence, early marriage also hampers education levels, “trapping them in cycles of dependency, reduced independence, and restricted economic opportunities”, the WHO Regional Director said.

Further, Saima said that the SE Asia Region is home to “26 per cent of the population of the planet and 29 per cent of the global adolescent population”.

But the babies born to adolescents face a significantly higher risk of death, due to lack of proper “antenatal care, postnatal care, delivery via a skilled birth attendant, and access to family planning.”

They also face greater humiliation and disrespect and receive poorer quality care than adults.

Highlighting “a sizable unmet need for contraception in every country”, she called for “effective strategies, including investments, to tackle adolescent pregnancy.”

“Those who traditionally suffer from health inequalities, such as girls and women, adolescents, and vulnerable populations, are the drivers of sustainable development, and powerful agents of change. Strategic investments in the health of women and girls yield multiplicative and multigenerational benefits beyond health,” the Regional Director said.


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