Pregnancy kills or injures one million girls a year - Save the Children

Pregnancy is the biggest killer of teenage girls worldwide, with one million dying or suffering serious injury, infection or disease due to pregnancy or childbirth every year, Save the Children said today.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012 - 4:50pm

Pregnancy is the biggest killer of teenage girls worldwide, with one million dying or suffering serious injury, infection or disease due to pregnancy or childbirth every year, Save the Children said today.

In a new report, Every Woman’s Right: How family planning saves children’s lives, the aid agency highlights that girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy than women in their 20s.

Babies born to younger mums are also at far greater risk and around one million babies born to adolescent girls die every year, Save the Children said.

In many countries it is normal for young girls to be married off and quickly fall pregnant before their bodies have sufficiently developed, according to the report. An estimated 10 million girls under 18 are married every year, or more than 25,000 every day.

In addition, contraception is not accessible or affordable for many women and girls and others are prevented or put-off from using it because of social or cultural attitudes or myths about side-effects.

Some 222 million women around the world who don’t want to get pregnant currently don’t have access contraception, resulting in 82.3 million unintended or mistimed pregnancies in developing countries every year.

“The issue of children having children - and dying because their bodies are too immature to deliver the baby - is a global scandal,” said Save the Children’s Chief Executive, Justin Forsyth.

“This is a tragedy not just for those girls but also for their children: babies are 60% more likely to die if their mother is under 18.”

Mr Forsyth continued: “In the developing world, family planning isn’t just a lifestyle choice. Children's lives depend on it.”

World leaders are congregating in London next month for a family planning summit hosted by the UK government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Save the Children is urging them to increase the global availability of contraceptives and empower girls and women to decide whether and when they have children - and how many.

Save the Children is also calling for equal access to family planning for all women; for women’s rights to be guaranteed and enshrined in law; and for investment in education and health workers.

Meeting the entire global need for contraception could prevent 30% of maternal deaths and 20% of neonatal deaths worldwide – potentially saving 649,000 lives a year.


The report also highlights:

  • Globally, one in five girls will have had a child by the age of 18.
  • Young mothers are likely to be poor, less educated and living in rural areas.
  • A woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death – the probability that a 15 year old girl will ultimately die from a maternal cause – is 1 in 3,800 in developed countries but 1 in 150 in developing countries.
  • A national survey in Nigeria in 2005 found almost a third of women believed that certain methods of contraception could lead to female infertility. In Uganda, doctors reported that women believed taking contraception caused cancer and if they got pregnant again they would have deformed babies.
  • In some countries up to 30% of first sexual encounters are forced: 24% in rural Peru; 28% in Tanzania; 30% in rural Bangladesh; and 40% in South Africa.
  • Healthier birth spacing, where mothers delay conceiving until 36 months after giving birth, could prevent 1.8 million deaths of children under five a year – 25% of annual child deaths.
  • Every £1 spent on family planning saves at least £4 that would be spent treating complications from unintended pregnancies.
  • The United Nations International Conference on Human Rights, Article 16, Tehran 1968 states: “The protection of the family and of the child remains the concern of the international community. Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children”.


For more information, a copy of the report, interviews and case studies contact Save the Children’s Press Office on 0207 012 6841 or out of hours 07831 650409.