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Teenage pregnancies cause many health, social problems

13 February 2009 -- About 16 million teenage girls become mothers every year. In this episode we talk about the risks and consequences of teenage pregnancies.

Transcript of the podcast

Veronica Riemer: You’re listening to the WHO podcast, and my name is Veronica Riemer. In this episode, we talk about the risks and consequences of teenage pregnancies.

Lisa: It has changed my life a lot because I have to look after a baby. I don't get out and do stuff like I used to before. It was a safe delivery, but it was very painful.

Interviewer: You miss school?

Lisa: Yes I do.

Interviewer: You like to study?

Lisa: Yeah.

Interviewer: You'd like to go?

Lisa: Yeah, but I don't want to go back to the same school. I feel real bad and feel embarrassed.

Veronica Riemer: Sixteen-year-old Lisa is from Georgetown in Guyana. The life-changing situation she describes is her unexpected pregnancy. In December 2008, she gave birth to a boy. As a result, she has dropped out of school to stay at home to look after her infant son. They now face many challenges.

Lisa's life is made easier, thanks to family and community support. Her mother has helped her through her pregnancy and delivery and Lisa plans to return to school soon. Many teenage girls are face serious problems, with about 16 million of them becoming mothers every year. Teenage mothers account for more than 30 births per minute. This is despite the significant drop in teenage pregnancies in most countries in the past 20 to 30 years.

Dr. Viviana Mangiaterra from WHO's Department of Making Pregnancy Safer talks about the risks to the health of pregnant teenagers and their babies.

Dr. Viviana Mangiaterra: Teenage pregnancy is definitely dangerous for a combination of factors. There are biological factors, the body is not ready, it is a growing body. But social-economical aspects are extremely important as well as the lack of access to services. Children that are born from a teenager mother have 50% higher risk to die than newborns that are born from older mothers".

Veronica Riemer: Pregnancies among teenagers are often unplanned and unwanted. Dr Elizabeth Mapella is the Coordinator of Adolescent Reproductive Health Services in Tanzania's Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. She tells us more about the consequences for teenage mothers.

Dr Elizabeth Mapella: A young girl who has been coerced into sex might end up with pregnancy, HIV infection, psychological trauma because this has a long-term impact. Some of them are also not accepted: they are even discriminated.

Looking at those who succeed to go through that pregnancy, we are also seeing girls after delivery not being able to take care of their children. We are also seeing girls dumping their children because of the social impacts. And looking at their school enrolment and the dropouts, it is also a social problem for ensuring education.

Veronica Riemer: Unlike older mothers, teenage mothers lack education, experience and income. Dr Vicki Camacho from the WHO department of Adolescent Health and Development tells us what kind of help sexually active teenagers should be given.

Dr Vicki Camacho: We need to offer adolescents, boys and girls, different options and one important option is dual protection, so they get protected against pregnancy but also get protected against sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS.

A very key important issue: girls need space for development. Girls need to be empowered to make the right decisions at the right time. If they really decide to have sex, they have to think about what it means and what are the implications of having sex. To do so, they need to have the right information, they need to know where to get services, they need to know what it means having a baby, what are the consequences and the implications.

Veronica Riemer: That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. If you would like more information on adolescent pregnancy, you can find links on the transcript page of this episode. Look for the podcast link on the home page of the WHO website:

If you have any comments on our podcast or have any suggestions for future health topics drop us a line. Our email address is

For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.

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