Teen childbirth impacts negatively on women’s economic empowerment
Although the odds against mothers below 18 years are many, it doesn’t seem to go away because of the persistence of teenage pregnancy across the world.
Teen pregnancy is an important issue for several reasons as it has health risks for the mother, and the children born to teenage mothers are likely to suffer health, social, and emotional problems than children born to older mothers.
A quarter of a century after the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Plan of Action, population experts say there have been many improvements in women’s Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) as the percentage of women of reproductive age that use contraception has increased by 25 per cent globally from 1994 to 2019, and the adolescent birth rate has declined although the consequences of teenage pregnancy still persist.
Consequences of Teen Pregnancy
Teenage births are associated with lower annual income for the mother as it is estimated that 80 per cent of teen mothers are unemployed.
Teenage mothers are also more likely to drop out of school and only about one-third of them are able to go back to school.
According to health experts and researchers, teenage pregnancy was associated with increased rates of alcohol abuse and substance abuse, lower educational level and reduced earning potential in teen fathers.
Recently, Women Deliver, a global advocacy organisation that works to generate political commitment and financial investment for fulfilling Millennium Development Goal five that is reducing maternal mortality and achieving universal access to reproductive health and its partners released a study that showed that a gender equal world was healthier, wealthier, more peaceful and more productive.
The study showed the relationship between having a child during adolescence and women’s employment.
According to the findings, having a baby before 18 impacted a girl's entire economic future.
The study from 43 low and middle income countries, including Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Niger, Sierra Leone and Gambia explored the association between having a child before 18 and economic opportunity and showed that there were implications on both the ‘Individual Power’ that is girls’ and women’s individual power, self-esteem and agency and ‘Structural Power’ that is the systems, barriers, and opportunities for progress in power relations, including political, economic and social structures.
The report said cash earnings — as opposed to in-kind payments and unpaid work — played an important role in economic empowerment as research suggested that women receiving cash were more likely to be able to make decisions about their own health care and education.
The study dived further into women’s economic empowerment by analysing married women’s sole control over their cash earnings saying a woman’s power to make her own decisions over her health, income, and life choices was a marker of empowerment and a core element of gender equality.
Also, it said, a woman’s sexual and reproductive health and rights were inextricably linked to her economic empowerment as both factors played essential roles in achieving a more gender-equitable world and reaching development goals.
The study said fully meeting contraceptive needs in developing countries and providing comprehensive care for all pregnant women and newborns would reduce unintended pregnancies, unplanned births and induced abortions, leading to an estimated 73 per cent decrease in maternal deaths and 80 per cent in newborn deaths.
According to the study, it had been estimated that every $1 invested in meeting the unmet needs for contraceptives yielded as much as $60 to $100 in long-term benefits from economic growth.
Also, it said, closing the gender gap in workplaces could add up to US$28 trillion in annual gross domestic product by 2025.
However, the report identified that despite these benefits, the world was far from meeting the sexual and reproductive needs of girls and women and from closing the gender economic gap.
The report showed that there was a strong and consistent lifelong negative association between having a child during adolescence and a woman’s economic empowerment.
It said women, aged between 20 and 24, who had an adolescent birth, were 1.2 times more likely to work than their peers saying young mothers might be pushed into working by economic necessity and that the effect of adolescent childbearing on employment disappeared among women aged 25 to 49.
Women who had children before the age of 18 were set back economically throughout their lives. Across all age groups, working women who had children during adolescence were less likely to earn cash for their work than women who did not have children during adolescence.
Most women, aged 20 to 49, were employed — regardless of having a child before 18; however, the work was often not economically empowering saying more than half of all women in more than three quarters of the countries analysed were employed.
However, it identified that employment tended to be lowest among women aged 20 to 24 and increased steadily with age. In some countries, employment levels of after age 40 existed.
Also it identified that the percentage of women paid in cash for their work varied widely across countries. The percentage of working women paid in cash ranged from less than 30 per cent in Burundi and Rwanda to more than 90 per cent in Colombia, Guatemala, the Maldives and South Africa.
The study inferred from its findings that when a woman had a child before the age of 18, her economic and financial options became more limited throughout her lifetime.
The evidence painted a picture of the difficult and important decisions young mothers might face as they were compelled to work out of necessity in jobs that might not promote their economic empowerment—a reality that could extend throughout the rest of their reproductive lives.
It, therefore, recommended that what governments, policymakers, civil society and donors could do was to improve the provision of, and access to high-quality, youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services and information before, during, and after girls and women had begun having children.
They also need to develop policies and programmes to open up a range of employment opportunities that were economically empowering for girls and women. Policies that were compatible with motherhood, such as social protection systems, including parental leave policies, old-age pensions, flexible working hours, child allowances and recognise and value unpaid care work.