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Pregnancy leading killer of girls in the developing world


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Teenage pregnancy is a controversial enough topic in Britain and the West alone. 'Who is the father?' 'How could this happen?' 'They’re both too young.' 'What about their education?' Many questions are asked from all angles, but those questions are rarely about death of the teenage girl during the process.

When we think about the developing world and the leading causes of death in the poorest countries it’s easy to think that it’s maybe something to do with starvation or dehydration or even insect bites; things that are devastatingly easy to treat in the UK. However for teenage girls in some of the most poverty-stricken countries it seems that pregnancy is actually the leading killer.

The news comes at the time of the family planning world group meeting in London to demand that we give 120 million women from the world’s poorest countries access to contraception. Many people in the developing world do not know about contraception, let alone have access to it, and this undoubtedly should change.

However, I would ask if anyone truly believes that lack of contraception is the sole cause of the problem?

Obviously poorer countries have poorer healthcare which means that women who fall pregnant, at any age, are at an increased risk of death or permanent problems to begin with. Then, of course, we must take into consideration rape, to which the introduction of contraception may make little impact.

Although, perhaps the bigger issue here is forced marriage of very young girls, placing them into a marital bed much earlier than ready. In 2009 Fawziya Ammodi, from Yemen, died aged 12 during childbirth. Ammodi was forced to drop out of school by her family, who live in poverty, and no longer had the means to support their daughter. She was forced to marry a 24-year-old man and she soon became pregnant. After three days of labour she gave birth and died. The baby also died.

According to news reports more than half of Yemeni girls are married before their eighteenth birthday, mostly to men that are much older. Yemen is one of the poorest Arab countries. Legislators have since tried, unsuccessfully, to set the minimum marital age to 17 - but the practice is still widespread.

Ironically many families desperately try to find their daughter a suitor from a very young age in order to preserve their daughter’s honour and delay sex until the marriage when she has reached puberty, however, most families find themselves in a position where they are unable to support their daughter any longer. Thus she is forced to marry as a child.

Marie Staunton, chief executive of Plan UK, writing for The Independent, introduces us to a girl named Nargis who was married at the age of 12 in Bangladesh. She soon became pregnant. Her baby died during childbirth and Nargis still faces daily pain as her body suffered serious trauma before it was fully developed.

Stauton quotes: "Girls aged 15-19 are twice as likely to die in childbirth as women aged over 20, while girls aged 10-14 face five times the risk. What’s more, babies born to mothers under 18 are 60% more likely to die before their first birthday than babies born to older mums."

Thus, although contraception is a major issue and undoubtedly had many girls with similar stories to those above had access to contraception they would still be living, (and living without permanent reminders of trauma), there are bigger issues than contraception to attack here.

Stauton goes on to state: "International leaders must take heed of the calls from the Family Planning Summit and extend the reach of contraception.  However, the work cannot end there. Without tackling the root causes of early and forced marriages and gender inequality, we cannot hope to end the horror of the fifty thousand teenage girls who die every year because of pregnancy or childbirth."

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