Adolescent health and development | Fig

A person’s health and lifestyle during their teenage years can be just as important as their childhood in helping them grow, develop, and reach adulthood without major problems.

However, the conditions and expectations that adolescents are exposed to around the world can vary widely, affecting their chances of healthy, and sometimes safe, development during adolescence.

Their attitude towards sex and their cultural expectations are just two of the factors that can contribute to the potential risks to the health and development of adolescents around the world.

Teen pregnancy puts millions at risk

In some parts of the world, teenage girls have access to free contraception and in-depth sex education. However, not all young women enjoy this level of awareness and choice, with teenage marriages and rape occurring on a large scale in some parts of the world. There can be huge risks associated with underdeveloped women bearing and giving birth to their own children.

Statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that 16 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth each year in low-income countries. There are reports of girls as young as ten giving birth, and mothers this age are much more likely to suffer from eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and infections than mothers in their twenties. Another 3.9 million girls in this age group undergo unsafe abortions every year worldwide, putting their health at serious risk.

WHO figures also show that complications during pregnancy and childbirth are currently the leading cause of death among women aged 15-19 worldwide. This is therefore a critical age group to consider in achieving SDG 3.1, which aims to reduce the maternal mortality rate to less than 70 per 100,000 live births.

Teenage marriage contributes to health problems

Around 90% of teenage pregnancies occur within marriage, showing just how widespread teenage marriage is in some parts of the world. Sexual intercourse itself can cause internal and external physical harm, while girls’ underdeveloped bodies cannot necessarily carry infants to term.

These figures come from Girls Not Brides, with data also showing that stillbirth or death in the first weeks of a child’s life is 50% more likely for mothers under 20, which can affect a daughter for the rest of her life, both mentally and physically.

A total of 15 million girls worldwide are married before the age of 18 and they are more likely to contract HIV due to their limited power to negotiate safer sex. One in seven new cases of infection is among those under the age of 18, with 5,000 girls diagnosed with the disease every day.

Changes in the expectations, treatment and sexual education of young women are therefore necessary to preserve their health at this vulnerable age. This is an enormous task that will take years of hard work to implement change, but it is necessary to ensure the health of future generations of women and children around the world.

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