Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy


Every day, 20,000 girls younger than 18 give birth in low- and middle-income countries. Ninety-five percent of adolescent pregnancies occur in resource-poor settings. Girls who are married, out of school, belonging to an ethnic minority, or living in rural areas are also at heightened risk. In fact, 9 out of 10 births to adolescents occur within marriage or union.

Continue reading to learn about preventing adolescent pregnancy:

What factors contribute to adolescent pregnancy?

In many resource-poor settings, girls have very little autonomy. At the onset of puberty, girls are often forced to abandon school and are pressured into marriage. When a girl marries early, rarely is she able to determine when and how often she will become pregnant. Girls’ access to reproductive health services also is often severely limited.

What are the health consequences of adolescent pregnancy?

  • Each year, 70,000 adolescent girls die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Unplanned pregnancies result in approximately 3 million unsafe abortions among adolescents ages 15 to 19 each year.
  • Girls under 15 years are at increased risk of maternal and infant morbidity and mortality.
  • Infants born to mothers younger than 18 are at 60% greater risk of dying in the first year of life than those born to mothers older than 19.

What are the social and economic consequences of adolescent pregnancy?

Adolescent mothers are often forced to leave school, resulting in social isolation, low educational attainment, and exclusion from civic and vocational opportunities.

What is needed to address adolescent pregnancy?

The drivers of adolescent pregnancy are multidimensional and so must be the solutions. Policies and programs must do the following:

  • Design programs that are age-disaggregated and tailored to the unique needs of older, younger, married, and unmarried adolescent girls.   
  • Help create policies that protect girls against child marriage; enlist stakeholders to enforce these policies; and engage men and boys as allies.
  • Work with girls, their families, and other community stakeholders to keep girls in school longer. Educational attainment is correlated with increasing the age of marriage and first birth.
  • Increase girls’ reproductive health knowledge and expand their access to services.

Click through the menu below to explore messages, research, and educational resources related to this topic.

Adolescent pregnancy is a global public health and human rights concern. Each year in low- and middle-income countries, more than 7 million girls ages 18 or younger give birth; 2 million of these young mothers are under age 15. Childbearing is one of the leading causes of death among adolescent girls and can result in lasting physical, social, and economic harm to both the young mothers and their children. 

  • Girls ages 10 to 14 are at heightened risk of negative health outcomes as a result of pregnancy.
  • Girls who give birth before the age of 18 miss important educational, social, and economic opportunities, thereby limiting their own potential and that of their children.
  • Married adolescents need access to rights-based, youth-friendly information and services in order to plan their pregnancies and have safer births.

Adolescents: The United Nations (UN) defines adolescents as people between the ages of 10 and 19 years old.

Very young adolescents: The UN defines very young adolescents as people between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. The period of life between 10 and 14 years of age is also referred to as early adolescence.

Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health eLearning Course

This three-hour course from the Global Health eLearning Center serves two main purposes:

  • It provides an introduction to key sexual and reproductive health issues faced by young people, including the relationship between gender norms and health.
  • It presents an overview of the best programmatic approaches for improving young people’s sexual and reproductive health.

For more information on preventing unintended pregnancy with family planning, check out the following courses:

Chandra-Mouli V, Lane C, Wong S. What Does Not Work in Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health: A Review of Evidence on Interventions Commonly Accepted as Best Practices. Glob Health Sci Pract 2015;3(3):333-340.

Youth centers, peer education, and one-off public meetings have generally been ineffective in facilitating young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, changing their behaviors, or influencing social norms around adolescent SRH. Approaches that have been found to be effective when well implemented, such as comprehensive sexuality education and youth-friendly services, have tended to flounder as they have considerable implementation requirements that are seldom met. For adolescent SRH programs to be effective, we need substantial effort through coordinated and complementary approaches. Unproductive approaches should be abandoned, proven approaches should be implemented with adequate fidelity to those factors that ensure effectiveness, and new approaches should be explored, to include greater attention to prevention science, engagement of the private sector, and expanding access to a wider range of contraceptive methods that respond to adolescents’ needs.

“Adolescent-Friendly Contraceptive Services (AFCS): Mainstreaming Adolescent-Friendly Elements Into Existing Contraceptive Services (2015; PDF, 335KB) focuses on the elements of AFCS that are typically implemented within a service delivery setting. It describes how mainstreaming AFCS can address key challenges for contraceptive programs, discusses the existing evidence of adolescent-friendly elements, outlines key issues for planning and implementation, and identifies knowledge gaps.

“Improving Sexual and Reproductive Health of Young People: A Strategic Planning Guide” (2015; PDF, 156KB) is intended to lead program managers, planners, and decision makers through a strategic process to identify the most effective and efficient investments for improving the sexual and reproductive health of young people.

“Educating Girls: Creating a foundation for positive sexual and reproductive health behaviors” (2014; PDF, 395KB) describes the relationship of girls’ education on family planning and reproductive health and behaviors; highlights evidence-based practices that increase girls’ enrollment, retention, and participation in school; and provides recommendations for how the health sector can support keeping girls in school.

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