Adolescents Responsible for 10 million Unintended Pregnancies

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By Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Folalumi Alaran

About 10 million unintentional pregnancies among adolescent age group of 15 to 19 years occured between 2019 and 2020 in developing countries.

According to a report by UNICEF, evidence showed that one in five young women was married off before the age of 18 adding that every seven minutes, an adolescent is killed due to violence somewhere in the world.

Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire who gave the statistics in his speech to mark the International Adolescent Health Week, also quoted the World Health Organisation (WHO) study, noting that suicide is sadly the third highest cause of death among this age group, while about 10-20 percent have mental health condition.

He said: “It is estimated that about 10 million unintentional pregnancies occur yearly in the developing world among 15-19 year old adolescents, while complications of pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of mortality.

“Evidence shows that, one in five young women is married off before the age of 18 and that every seven minutes, an adolescent is killed due to violence somewhere in the world.”

The minister said the leading health challenges among adolescents and young people in Nigeria, from the report of a situation analysis conducted by the Federal Ministry of Health 2019, “are issues of; Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRH), mental health disorders, substance abuse, Nutritional problems, violences and injuries, physical disorders and chronic conditions such as asthma, sickle cell disease disorders, and oral health problems, including communicable and non-communicable diseases.

“Adolescence is the period of transition from child-hood to adulthood, built on the critical foundation of health investment in childhood towards a healthy adulthood”.

According to Ehanire, rural-based and economically disadvantaged adolescents bear huge burdens of maternal morbidity and mortality, high unmet SRH needs, poor knowledge of contraceptive and inadequate access to appropriate sanitary materials, among others.

In-addition, he said about 35 per cent of adolescent girls and 10 per cent of adolescent boys have had sexual experience while 32 per cent of adolescent girls and, 34 per cent of adolescent boys used a condom at the last sex with a non-marital, non-cohabiting partner within the last 12 months (NDHS, 2018).

He also said COVID-19 pandemic has directly and indirectly affected adolescents “with long term morbidity and mortality; limited access to essential services, including SRH services; increased risk of gender-based violence (GBV) and harmful practices, with attendant psychological consequences perpetuated by negative masculine gender roles”.

Ehanire said about 22 per cent of the population of Nigeria is made up of adolescents, whose demographic strength present opportunities that can be tapped accelerating sustainable development and Universal Health Coverage, leaving no one behind.

The International Adolescent Health Week (IAHW) is an annual health campaign marked every third week of March and consists of active participation in events to inspire adolescents and key stakeholders to advocate for a structured transition into adulthood.

The selected IAHW colour of ‘lime green’ represents the high energy and passion of adolescence!

This year’s theme – “Adolescent Resilience in the Face of a Pandemic”, celebrates the tremendous resilience and adaptability of adolescents, despite the challenges and uncertainties they have faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic”, Ehanire said.

On its part, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) said the theme for the week this year “Resilience in the face of Pandemic” is apt, adding that it describes the enormous abilities of adolescents to rise up to the challenges and the impact of COVID-19.

It said COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore some of the persistent challenges adolescents face such as- the silent pandemic of gender-based violence, the prevalent stigma adolescents experience in accessing FP services and the hurdles adolescents and young people living with HIV have to overcome in accessing treatment.

“However, adolescents have risen up to the negative impacts of the pandemic through their sheer innovation and determination to be part of the COVID-19 solutions especially through the utilisation of technology and social media.

“For us at UNFPA, we are firm believers in harnessing demographic dividends through quality investments made in adolescents and youth so that they can reach their full potential,” it said.