31 July 2017

Rutgers: Placing teenage pregnancy prevention on the HLPF agenda

Imagine this: you’re a 15-year old sexually-active girl, with a boyfriend. At the height of excitement, trouble sets in: the condom breaks. With great anticipation, you wait for your menstruation to come: two weeks later and still nothing. You buy a test, only to confirm your worst fears: you are pregnant. Early (teen) pregnancy is a situation shared by many others. Thankfully, in many societies, gone are the days when teenage pregnancy was considered solely a private matter. It is a matter of rights, gender equality, and a (public) health issue that many governments are seeking to address in order to meet their Agenda2030 commitments.

When a girl becomes pregnant, her life changes drastically. In some countries, her right to go to school is taken away from her; making her more vulnerable to poverty. Her overall health is also put at risk. In developing countries, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death among teenage girls.

To ensure that all youth are able to reach their fullest potential, the Netherlands considers teenage pregnancy prevention as an important topic within its own borders, and internationally. The Netherlands is at the forefront in placing the topic of teenage pregnancy on the agenda of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), and with like-minded partners, is amplifying calls to accelerate fulfilment of global commitments.

Teenage Pregnancy in the Netherlands Among the Lowest   

During the roundtable, the Netherlands was reported to have one of the lowest numbers of teenage pregnancies in the world. Sharing the latest research findings of Rutgers and SoaAids Nederland, young people in the Netherlands were found to protect themselves well from pregnancy and STIs/STDs. And, teenagers tend to wait longer before their first sexual encounter (median shifted from 17.1 yrs. old in 2012 to 18.6 yrs. old in 2017). Still improvements are wanting: about half of all teenage pregnancies occur amongst girls with a migrant background; the highest concentration being among Antillean and Surinamese girls. It was emphasised that reaching these girls with good information and contraceptives remains a challenge.

The reality in the Netherlands was found to be in stark contrast to Kenya: where 15% of all teenage girls are already mothers; and to Ethiopia: where 16% of all girls are married at age 15, and often become pregnant soon after. In both African countries, their respective teenage pregnancy rates were reported to have not declined in recent years, despite government initiatives. On the positive side, there were interesting reproductive health-related initiatives worth sharing and learning from. In Kenya, for example, the Government has committed to providing free access to sanitary towels in schools to keep girls in formal education. The Government of Ethiopia, on the other hand, recently adopted a new policy, which is aimed to improve the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents.

Youth participants have spoken!

Teenage pregnancy directly affects young people. Young people’s knowledge and voices are key to developing preventative measures that best fit the age group.

With 90% of all teenage pregnancies occurring in the context of a marriage (Girls Not Brides, 2011), Peter (25) from Kenya highlighted the importance of ending harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriages, and female genital cutting (FGM/C).

The Dutch Youth Ambassador for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Sanne Thijssen (23) asserted that sexuality education in Dutch schools could still be improved, and called upon Minister Ploumen to try her best to contribute to that. Thijssen stressed the importance for young people to know where to access the morning-after pill in the event that a condom breaks. Throughout the exchanges, youth advocates from Rutgers and Right Here Right Now emphasised that:         

Young people should be able to work with governments to change laws and policies in the direction of improving everyone’s access to – regardless of age – comprehensive sexuality education, contraceptives and health services, without any form of violence or stigma. Only then will poverty be reduced. Only then will we be able to take a step closer to achieving the SDGs.

In conclusion, one thing became clear on that day: that despite differences in statistics between countries, the effects of teenage pregnancy on a girl’s life are life altering; whichever corner of the world you are from. Taking precautionary and preventative measures are always better than leaving a potential pregnancy to fate.

*In the picture: Ethiopia’s Dr Ato Admasu Nebebe (State Minister for Ministry of Finance and Economic Cooperation) reiterating the Government’s commitment to the human development of girls. Next to him, H.E. Liliane Ploumen (Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation in the Netherlands). Photo by: Erik Fuller


*This blog was written by Rineke van Dam (Advocacy Officer at Rutgers). It is an expanded version of an article written by Rineke in Dutch, and published by SDG Nederland (an initiative of SDG Charter and One World). View Rineke's article here