The family planning gap
For any girl, married or unmarried, few events are as traumatic as an unwanted pregnancy. Nonetheless, a significant number of adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 are sexually active and do not want a child, but are not using any form of family planning, according to a recent survey.
In more than half of the 46 countries providing data, which are home to almost 50% of the world's population, at least 10% of girls aged 15 to 19 have an unmet need for family planning services. The data do not reveal whether family planning services are actually available or whether it is legal for adolescents under 18 to obtain them. The highest rates are found in sub-Saharan Africa, where 20% or more of adolescent girls use no means of contraception in 10 of the 21 countries surveyed, and where many sexually active girls are also unmarried. This is also the case in the United States, the only industrialized country covered, where 9% of unmarried girls aged 15 to 19 have an unmet need for family planning, compared to only 1% of married girls. Unmarried pregnant adolescents face larger risks, including the possibility of receiving less care and of family rejection.
Postponing marriage and childbearing gives girls the chance for more education and experience and for improving their own health, nutrition and well-being and that of their future children.
Significant numbers of 15- to 19-year-old girls do not use or have access to family planning services. An adolescent mother watches over her premature baby in a hospital in Encarnacion (Paraguay).
Source: The Alan Guttmacher Institute, Into a New World, Young Women's Sexual and Reproductive Lives, New York, 1998.