Birth control is cheap to make and widely available in many regions of the world, and yet thousands of teenage girls die each year because they do not have access to birth control. According to a new analysis from Save the Children, a charity focused on the health, safety, and education of impoverished children around the globe, nearly 30,000 teen girls die each year due to complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. That’s one teen girl every 20 minutes. The death rates are the worst in regions where birth control is difficult or impossible to access, leading to higher pregnancy rates.
In a statement from Save the Children UK sent to Brit + Co, the organization says that nearly 95 percent of these deaths occur in the world’s poorest nations, especially in rural areas where families are not only poor, but also geographically cut off from resources. Some of the common issues that can lead to death in these regions are bleeding, blood poisoning, labor complications, and complications from unsafe abortions, according to the statement.
Teen death related to pregnancy and childbirth is a much more serious issue than many people realize. In fact, Save the Children’s analysis concludes that pregnancy and childbirth remain the largest killers of girls ages 15 to 19 globally.
Though teen pregnancy rates are declining on a global scale, the rate of teen pregnancy remains relatively high. According to World Bank data, the global teen fertility rate for girls 14 to 19 in 2015 was 44.5 births per 1,000 women. But in impoverished nations, such as Niger, this number is much, much higher. In 2015, the teen birth rate per 1,000 women in Niger (a nation with a poverty rate of nearly 46 percent in 2014, according to the World Bank) is 201, the highest teen birth rate in the world.
While the problem is most significant in under-developed countries, it would be a mistake to suggest that teen pregnancy is not also an issue in the United States. Thanks to better and more access to birth control, teen pregnancy rates in the US are currently at an all-time low. However, if the Trump administration passes the Senate’s new healthcare bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), millions of people are at risk of losing their current insurance, including birth control coverage.
Without access to birth control, girls are of course at higher risk of getting pregnant, and once they are pregnant, are at higher risk for health problems compared to older women, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Not only are the pregnant girls at a higher risk compared to women even in their early 20s, but the babies of young teen mothers are at greater risk for dying, WHO reports.
According to Save the Children, the situation will only worsen unless teen girls, especially in poor nations, get access to birth control. In the Save the Children statement provided to Brit + Co, Kirsty McNeill, Executive Director of Policy, Advocacy, and Campaigns of Save the Children UK, said, “Girls need to be given greater access to contraceptives, and contraceptives should be made free. We also need to ensure that myths about family planning are dispelled so that every girl feels empowered to decide what happens to her own body.”
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(Photo via Getty)