Africa has the world’s highest rates of adolescent pregnancy, a factor that affects the health, education, and earning potential of millions of African girls, according to a report released last month by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Niger tops the list with 51 percent of women between 20 and 24 reporting a birth before the age of 18. And of 20 countries with the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy, 18 are African, the report, “Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the challenge of adolescent pregnancy”, says.
When a girl becomes pregnant or has a child, her health, education, earning potential and her entire future may be in jeopardy, trapping her in a lifetime of poverty, exclusion and powerlessness, the report says.
“Adolescent pregnancy is intertwined with issues of human rights. A pregnant girl who is pressured or forced to leave school, for example, is denied her right to education”, UNFPA’s Executive Director, Babatunde Osotimehin, explains in the report foreword.
“There are 580 million adolescent girls in the world. Four out of five of them live in developing countries. Investing in them today will unleash their full potential to shape humanity’s future,” he adds.
Africa’s women and girls offer enormous untapped potentials to drive African development. Women account for two thirds of our smallholder farmers, for example. So this report shines light on a critical issue.
The distorted transitioning of girls into womanhood as a result of early pregnancy ought to be seen as a significant economic loss.
In its 2012 report “Jobs, Justice and Equity: Seizing opportunities in times of global change”, the Africa Progress Panel challenges African leaders to scale up efforts to achieving the MDGs while keeping the post-2015 development agenda in mind.
African governments must pursue policies that bridge the gender disparity between boys and girls in access to health care, education and other basic social services. Leaders must also accelerate efforts towards universal primary education that gives particular focus to girls.