Child brides and family planning: five things you need to know

Photo credit: Ashenafi Tibebe / Girls Not Brides

This week policy-makers, donors and advocates are gathering at the 2017 Family Planning Summit in London, UK, to discuss efforts to reach the Family Planning 2020 goals and ensure that more women and girls are able to plan their families and their future.

By enabling women and girls to choose when and whether to have children, family planning gives them choice, power and autonomy and helps ensure their safe passage into adulthood. Yet all too often, child brides are denied these rights. Here are five things you need to know about child brides and family planning.

1/ Child marriage is one of the main drivers of adolescent pregnancies

Did you know? 90% of births to adolescent girls in the developing world occur within a marriage or union [1].

Child brides typically face intense social pressure from their husband, in-laws and family to prove their fertility, which means they are more likely to become pregnant early and often.

2/ Child brides rarely have access to family planning

Did you know? Married adolescents have the lowest use of contraception and the highest levels of unmet need [2].

Married girls do not always realise they have a right to contraception, and the right to choose if, when and how many children to have. They are often isolated, hard to reach and unaware that such services are available.

Child brides who are married to older men may lack the negotiation skills and the confidence to assert their needs to their husbands.

The stigma adolescent girls can face when trying to access contraception also means that they are less likely to return for follow up.

3/ Pregnancy and childbirth put child brides at risk of serious injuries and death

Did you know? Complications in pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in girls between the ages of 15 and 19 globally [3]. 

Child marriage encourages the initiation of sexual activity at an age when girls’ bodies are still developing.

Girls who become pregnant during their childhood or adolescence are too young to cope with the toll of pregnancy and they face serious risks during the course of their pregnancy and childbirth. They are also at significant risk of pregnancy-related complications: 65% of all cases of obstetric fistula occur in girls under the age of 18 [4].

4/ Early pregnancy not only affects mothers, it affects their children too

Did you know? The younger the mother, the greater the risk for her child.

In developing countries, babies born to mothers who are under the age of 20 are 50% more likely to be stillborn and to die in the first weeks of their life [5].

Adolescent mothers are also more likely to have babies with low birth weight.

5/ We cannot improve adolescent girls’ choices and wellbeing without addressing child marriage

The scale of the problem is huge. According to UNICEF, if there is no reduction in child marriage, the global number of women married as children will reach 1.2 billion by 2050 [6].

Acting now to prevent child marriage, support married girls and address the social and cultural beliefs that perpetuate the practice could dramatically improve the lives of millions of girls and women.

How can we improve girls’ – both married and unmarried – access to family planning?

  • Ensure that family planning programmes take married and unmarried adolescent girls into account and offer quality services that are adolescent-friendly.
  • Address the factors that drive early pregnancies and early marriage, including poverty, insecurity, the lack of opportunities for girls, traditional roles of wives and mothers, and gender inequality.
  • Provide safe spaces for adolescent girls to interact, exchange information and learn about their rights and the family planning options available to them.

For more information about child marriage and family planning see our information sheet here.

Sources

  1. UNFPA, Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the challenge of adolescent pregnancy, State of World Population, 2013.
  2. UNFPA, Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the challenge of adolescent pregnancy, State of World Population, 2013.
  3. WHO, Global Accelerated Action for the Health of Adolescents (AA-HA!): Guidance to support country implementation, 2017.
  4. WHO, Adolescent pregnancy fact sheet, access in January 2016.
  5. WHO guidelines, Preventing early pregnancy and poor reproductive outcomes among adolescents in developing countries, 2011.
  6. UNICEF, Ending child marriage: Progress and prospects, 2014.

This post was originally published for the 3rd International Family Planning Conference held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in November 2013 and has been updated for the 2017 Family Planning Summit in London, UK.