Pieter ten Hoopen/Plan International-UNFPA

Photos Of Teen Mothers From Around The Globe Tell A Harrowing Story We All Need To Hear


It's all too easy to imagine that all young mothers look like MTV Teen Mom subjects, but these photos of teen mothers from around the globe tell a more complex story about motherhood that can add some perspective. Ahead of the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen this week, photographer and filmmaker Pieter ten Hoopen travelled to talk to teenage mothers from Zambia, Haiti, and everywhere in between, and to photograph them and document their stories.

This is the 4th Annual Women Deliver conference, where policy makers and researchers gather to discuss women's rights and health, which is always a good thing. But Hoopen's images and interviews with the subjects, written by Sofia Nordenskiold, a journalist and press officer for Plan International, sum up many of the issues women from around the world face. Some of the women have husbands or boyfriends that they willingly slept with and then didn't have options once they were pregnant. Others girls had more complicated stories.

Most of the girls had no sex education before starting to date or have sex. Many, in their own words, say that they didn't even understand the mechanics of sex or of pregnancy, though most of their countries have clinics and some access to contraception. Some say they would still be too scared to ask for contraception, even knowing that it exists. Some are part of women's groups in their communities and helping other girls to understand their own bodies. Others have sworn off sex and more children since giving birth.

Many of them are disappointed to have given up on school and the careers they dreamed about, though they have hope that they can return to them once their children are grown. Others are happy to be taking care of a household and a family and have no interest in furthering their education.

Their respective stories mainly show that sometimes motherhood is a choice, other times it isn't, and that every mother learns to adapt, wherever they are.

Or, in other words, females are strong as hell.

Colombia: Ana, 15 with Karen, 4 months

Pieter ten Hoopen/Plan International-UNFPA

As a teen mom, Ana is also dealing with everyday heartbreak. She says she has had no contact with her "boyfriend" since she got pregnant. He doesn't "see this as a responsibility," she told Nordenskiold.

Haiti: Angelica, 13 with Lucner, 3 months

Pieter ten Hoopen/Plan International-UNFPA

Angelica lives with her son, her parents, and her siblings in a slum in Haiti after losing their home in an earthquake. Her parents kicked her out of the house after learning about her pregnancy. She slept on doorsteps, with her mother delivering her food sometimes.

Jordan: Muna, 14, with Rim, 3 months

Pieter ten Hoopen/Plan International-UNFPA

According to Nordenskiold, Muna lives with her daughter and her husband in a refugee camp in Jordan. Muna wants to have more children and isn't planning on returning to school. She said, "It's a big responsibility, but I'm glad to be a mother. I would like to have three more children."

Bangladesh: Keya, 14, with Rahim, 2 months

Pieter ten Hoopen/Plan International-UNFPA

Keya fell in love with her husband when she was 13 years old and married Jahangir, 21, against her parents' wishes. She says that she likes being a mother, but that doing her household chores is more difficult now that she has the baby to attend to.

Burkina Faso: Aïssa, 15, with Fati, 13 months

Pieter ten Hoopen/Plan International-UNFPA

Aïssa lives with her mother and sisters after being raped by a teacher at her school. She lived with his family while she pregnant and then returned home. She hasn't seen him since.

Zambia: Mulenga, 14, with Felicity, 5 weeks

Pieter ten Hoopen/Plan International-UNFPA

Mulenga became pregnant with her boyfriend but says that she didn't even know how one "got pregnant" when she started having sex. Her mother noticed that she wasn't looking well. While she was pregnant, her father made her stay with her boyfriend's family until they paid a sum of money to return her.

Jordan: Amira, with Samer, 1 and Amal, 12 days old

Pieter ten Hoopen/Plan International-UNFPA

Amir lives in a refugee camp with her two children and her husband, unnamed in the story. They married when she was 13 years old and she stopped attending school to become a wife and mother.

Bangladesh: Rabeya, 16 with Kushum, 3 years old

Pieter ten Hoopen/Plan International-UNFPA

Rabeya has been pregnant three times. Only one child survived, after a miscarriage and an illness took another at 3 months old. She said, "Since then I haven’t had a period. I don’t want to have any more children. I don’t have any more energy. I'm happy with my one child and thankfully my husband agrees."

Burkina Faso: Kiswensida, 15, with Koudbi, 1 month

Pieter ten Hoopen/Plan International-UNFPA

Kiswensida got pregnant at 14 years old with a boyfriend and now lives with grandparents and her aunts. She is able to go to school because of help from her family.  

Colombia: Janet, 15, with Manuel, 6 months

Pieter ten Hoopen/Plan International-UNFPA

Janet lives with her boyfriend in a major city in Colombia. She is now back in school and is part of a group for young mothers, where she gets advice on nutrition, health, and family planning. She also goes to beauty school on the weekends. She said, "I want to become a professional hair stylist to give my son everything."

Haiti: Lumilene, 15, with Clairina, 6 months

Pieter ten Hoopen/Plan International-UNFPA

Lumilene got pregnant by a boy she doesn't see anymore and lives with her mother and her daughter. She wanted to terminate the pregnancy, but her mother told her she should keep the baby. "She wasn't angry," Lumilene said. She's now back in school.

Zambia: Taonga, 15, has a 4 month old daughter, Margaret

Pieter ten Hoopen/Plan International-UNFPA

Taonga lives with her daughter and some extended family in a remote area, where she doesn't think she can return to school since her family doesn't have the financial resources to send her. Her daughter's father moved to a different town and they can't afford to keep in touch.

Bangladesh: Nargis, 15, with Nayeem, 1.5 years old

Pieter ten Hoopen/Plan International-UNFPA

Nargis was married off to a man because her family couldn't afford to support her anymore. She now lives with her husband, son, and works in a garment factory.

Each of the girls have different stories to tell and you can see more on Twitter with the hashtag #childrenmothers. Common narratives like the lack of education about their own bodies, access to healthcare, and poverty tie them together. That, and their love for their children, which may be the best thing of all.

All of the above photos will be on display at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen until May 19. You can donate to PLAN International or the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the two organizations Hoopen and Nordenskiold have partnered with on the photo project, in order to help provide education and resources to teen mothers across the globe.