Despite advancements in medicine and health care, the number of teens dying every day from childbirth and pregnancy worldwide is still incredibly high. According to startling new figures from Save the Children — a global charity that promotes children’s rights for better education, health care, and economic opportunities — 30,000 teenage girls die each year due to pregnancy-related complications. That’s equivalent to one death every 20 minutes around the world.
According to The Independent, these new numbers show that "pregnancy remains the number one killer" for teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 19 — especially for those from poorer families and rural areas. Kirsty McNeill of Save the Children told SHEmazing:
It’s unacceptable that so many young girls are dying simply because they don’t have access to contraceptives like condoms or the pill, or because of myths and cultural barriers. There is really nothing controversial about girls and women getting to choose if and when they become pregnant, who with and how many children they have but access to modern contraception really does save lives.
While the teen pregnancy rate in the United States is at a record low — statistics the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say reflects teens using birth control, and not entirely from abstaining from sex — about 16 million teenage girls are giving birth around the world each year, according to the World Health Organization.
As The Independent reported, the leading causes of death are bleeding, blood poisoning, obstructed labor, and other pregnancy complications "resulting from unsafe abortions." In fact, some 3 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 undergo unsafe abortions every year, according to WHO.
The United Nations estimates that 64 percent of women of reproductive age worldwide were using some form of contraception in 2015. But the birth control prevalence was much lower in the least developed countries — with just 33 percent of women in Africa using contraception. According to WHO, 95 percent of teen pregnancies take place in developing countries.
"Girls need to be given greater access to contraceptives, and contraceptives should be made free," McNeill told SHEmazing. "We also need to ensure that myths about family planning are dispelled so that every girl feels empowered to decide what happens to her own body."
In addition to the health risks pregnant teenage girls face, babies born to young mothers face a "substantially higher risk of dying," according to WHO. The CDC also noted that, if the children survive, they are more likely to struggle academically and have less developed speaking skills.
As Save The Children acknowledged, many teens around the world don't have access to high quality sexual and reproductive health information and more needs to be done to make these vital services more accessible.
Education is power, and when all young women and teenage girls are accurately informed about their reproductive health and have access to safe contraption methods, that's when these rates will decline. There are undoubtedly many barriers to overcome — especially in countries stricken with poverty and cultural taboos — but the number of pregnant teens dying every day can't be ignored.