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Fates of adolescent mothers hang by a thread in rural Bangladesh

By Amiya Halder

Jamalpur, Bangladesh, 01 April 2018 – Seventeen-year-old Mosammat Kakoli Yasmin lives in a little village an hour away from the city centre of Jamalpur, a district in northern Bangladesh. Out of the reach of community health workers, she is five months pregnant and yet to have her first antenatal check-up.   

“We’re poor folk; how can we afford a doctor?” she smiles shyly, “We do not know one either as it’s only my first pregnancy.”

She met her husband, Mohammad Al-Amin, one day on the way to her eighth-grade exams.

“If I’d stayed in school, I would be sitting for my 10th-grade examinations now,” Kakoli explains, her eyes sparkling now.

“I used to take part in all the competitions—singing, dancing and sports. I’d bring home two or three prizes every year at least. I even went to other towns to compete,” she reminisces.

Did she have other plans? Yes, to finish school and hopefully become a doctor.

But she met Al-Amin and it meant the start of another life.

What does she hope for the baby she is carrying? “My fears outweigh my hopes right now.”

She is not alone. Babies born to adolescent mothers are 1.5 times more likely to die in the first 28 days of life, and complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 to 19.* 

The number of girls who marry below the age of 18 in Bangladesh remains at about 52 percent**, making Kakoli one of the 7 million adolescent girls***  at risk of life-threatening complications due to pregnancy.

Having had no visits to or from a doctor, the threat she faces is even greater.

She shares that she does not know what kind of nutrition is required during a pregnancy or that adolescent mothers require extra food, care and rest. She reports of often feeling severely fatigued and dizzy—symptoms of anaemia, a condition that affects millions of mothers in the country****, raises the risk of hemorrhage and overwhelming infection during childbirth, and is implicated in 20 percent of maternal deaths*****; a condition that could be easily treated with regular iron supplementation.

An hour away from Kakoli’s home is the UNICEF-supported Mother and Child Welfare Centre, where iron, calcium and vitamin supplementation is available free-of-cost for expecting mothers.

But commuting is a problem for her and there is not even a rickshaw in sight for miles.
Before she goes off to cook the evening’s meal, the expecting mother, only a child herself, confides abashedly, “My dreams did not come true, but I want my child to get an education and have a real job.”

A new community volunteer programme by UNICEF is in the pipeline for women and children in the region and will send out its first batch of volunteers in June. But Kakoli is due in only four months’ time and unless she makes the long trip to the city for the four recommended doctor’s visits, her and her child’s fates hang by a thread.

______________________________

*  United Nations Children’s Fund, Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed − Progress report 2014, UNICEF, New York, September 2014, p. 34
**  https://www.unicef.org/bangladesh/Child_Marriage_in_Bangladesh.pdf
*** 52% of 13.7 million > https://www.unicef.org/bangladesh/children_356.htm
**** https://www.unicef.org/bangladesh/Child_and_Maternal_Nutrition(1).pdf
*****  https://www.unicef.org/nutrition/23964_iron.html

 

 
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