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Many are mothers at 18


Kenya - one of the leaders in Africa's fertility fall, but 28% are mothers by 18.

There is still one country - Niger - where half of all women give birth before the age of 18. In 17 other countries surveyed by the DHS programme, mainly in Africa, more than a quarter of all girls become pregnant before the age of 18.

The maternal death rate is three times higher for teenage mothers than for women in the 20-29 age group. Teenage pregnancy also tends to close off opportunities for education and training.

The younger a woman is when she first gives birth, the longer her total child-bearing period and the more children she is likely to have. This, too, increases the risks to the life and health of both mothers and children.

Many countries set a lower minimum age of marriage for females than for males. In 6 of the 21 sub-Saharan African countries surveyed, the median age at marriage was less than 18. In Bangladesh, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Yemen, more than half of the young women interviewed were married by the time they were 16 years old.

According to the International Women's Rights Action Watch: "There are a number of reasons to insist that girls not be married until they are a sufficient age to make an informed choice. The first is that as a matter of basic human right no person should undertake such a momentous act without full knowledge of its import, and no child can understand the full social and physical import of marriage. Another is that child-bearing at too early an age can severely damage a girl's reproductive and general health, causing such problems as obstructed labour, sometimes bleeding to death, and vesico-vaginal fistula, leading to social ostracism as well as health problems."

Proportion of women aged 20-24 years at time of survey who had their first birth by age 18

        
         % aged 20-24         % aged 20-24
        mothers by 18        mothers by 18
------------------------------------------        
Niger         53      Bolivia         19
Guinea        49      Indonesia       19
Mali          47      Namibia         18
Cameroon      46      Dominican Rep.  17
Liberia       44      Pakistan        17
Uganda        42      Sudan           17
Malawi        38      Ecuador         16
Nigeria       35      Paraguay        16
Senegal       34      Egypt           15
Zambia        34      Colombia        13
Burkina Faso  32      Trinidad/Tob.   13
Madagascar    31      Peru            12
Togo          30      Turkey          11
Guatemala     28      Thailand         9
Kenya         28      Rwanda           8
Tanzania      28      Burundi          8
Yemen         27      Jordan           8
Botswana      26      Philippines      8
Zimbabwe      25      Morocco          7
Ghana         23      Sri Lanka        5
Mexico        22      Tunisia          3
                      Viet Nam         3
Source: DHS surveys.

Birth and marriage
Median age at first marriage and at first birth among women aged 25-29

        
             Median       Median
          age first       age at
            married  first birth
--------------------------------            
Sub-Saharan Africa
Rwanda           21           22
Burundi          20           21
Namibia           *           21           
Ghana            19           20
Madagascar       19           20
Nigeria          17           20
Tanzania         19           20
Zimbabwe         19           20
Botswana         25           19
Burkina Faso     18           19
Cameroon         17           19
Kenya            20           19
Liberia          18           19
Malawi           18           19
Mali             16           19
Senegal          17           19
Togo             18           19
Uganda           18           19
Zambia           18           19
Guinea           16           18
Niger            15           18

Asia, Middle East & North Africa
Morocco          19           25
Sri Lanka        23           25
Tunisia          23           25
Jordan           21           23
Philippines      22           23
Sudan            21           23
Thailand         21           23
Viet Nam         21           23
Egypt            20           22
Turkey           20           22
Pakistan         19           21
Indonesia        19           20
Yemen            16           20
Bangladesh       15           18
Nepal            17            -    

Latin America & the Caribbean
Colombia         23           23
Brazil           21           22
Dominican Rep.   20           22
Paraguay         21           22
Peru             22           22
Trinidad/Tobago  20           22
Bolivia          21           21
Ecuador          20           21
Mexico           20           21
Guatemala        19           20

* Omitted because fewer than 50 per cent are married by 25.
- Data not collected in survey.
The ages given here are median ages, the median being the mid-point for an indicator: 50% of the individuals surveyed fall below the median, and 50% above.

Sources: First marriage: updated from DHS Program, Women's lives and experiences, 1994. First birth: DHS surveys.


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