200 teenage girls die in childbirth every day

Globally childbirth is one of the leading causes of death among teenage girls, according to a UN report calling for greater action against adolescent pregnancy.

Every day, 20,000 girls below the age of 18 give birth in developing countries, according to a report released today by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Nine out of ten of these occur within a marriage or union, and of the 7.3 million adolescent mothers giving birth each year, 2 million are under the age of fifteen. Every day, 200 adolescent mothers die in childbirth, making childbirth one of the leading causes of death among teenage girls.

95 per cent of adolescent pregnancies are in developing countries, but in every region of the world, impoverished, poorly educated and rural girls are more likely to get pregnant than their wealthier, higher educated counterparts. UNFPA describes teenage pregnancy as both "a cause and a consequence of rights violations."

The report finds that the highest rates of girls giving birth under the age of 18 occur in Niger (51 per cent), Chad (48 per cent) and Mali (46 per cent). In Bangladesh, Chad, Guinea, Mali, Mozambique and Niger, one girl in 10 has a child before the age of 15.

UNFPA argues that rather than trying to change the behaviour of girls – which implies that if a girl becomes pregnant it is her fault – countries should address the underlying causes of teenage pregnancy, like gender inequality, child marriage, sexual violence, poverty, poor education and negative attitudes towards teenage girls. Many programmes on teenage pregnancy focus on girls aged 15-19, but those under 14 are the most vulnerable and are more likely to die of complications during childbirth.

Girls who become pregnant during their adolescence are also less likely to finish their education, and more likely to live in poverty. On top of this, around 3.2 million unsafe abortions are carried out among teenagers every year.

“The topic reflects UNFPA's recently renewed emphasis on empowering adolescent girls and will inform discussions under way in the United Nations and among Member States about the role of adolescents and youth in the sustainable development agenda that will follow the Millennium Development Goals in 2015,” says Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UN Population Fund. “There are 580 million adolescent girls in the world today. Investing in them now – to empower them, including in ways that help them prevent pregnancy – can unleash their full potential in the future.”
 

A woman and her child wait at a health centre in Juba, South Sudan. Photo: Getty.

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Saudi Arabia is a brutal and extremist dictatorship – so why are we selling it arms?

With conflict in Yemen continuing, it’s clear that we’re failing to moderate the actions of “our despots”.

This year, during Pride week, I noticed something curious on top of the Ministry of Defence just off Whitehall. At the tip of the building’s flagpole hung the rainbow flag – a symbol of liberation for LGBTIQ people and, traditionally, a sign of defiance, too.

I was delighted to see it, and yet it also struck me as surprising that the governmental headquarters of our military would fly such a flag. Not only because of the forces’ history of homophobia, but more strikingly to me because of the closeness of our military establishment to regimes such as Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is a sin punishable by jail, lashing and even death

That relationship has been under the spotlight recently. Ministers writhed and squirmed to avoid making public a report that’s widely expected to reveal that funding for extremism in Britain has come from Saudi Arabia. The pressure peaked last week, after a series of parliamentary questions I tabled, when survivors of 9/11 wrote to Theresa May asking her to make the report public. At the final PMQs of the parliamentary term last week, I again pressed May on the issue, but like so many prime ministers before her, she brushed aside my questioning on the link between British arms sales and the refusal to expose information that might embarrass the Riyadh regime. 

The British government’s cosy relationship with Riyadh and our habit of selling weapons to authoritarian regimes is “justified" in a number of ways. Firstly, ministers like to repeat familiar lines about protecting British industry, suggesting that the military industrial complex is central to our country’s economic success.

It is true to say that we make a lot of money from selling weapons to Saudi Arabia – indeed figures released over the weekend by the Campaign Against Arms Trade revealed that the government authorised exports including £263m-worth of combat aircraft components to the Saudi air force, and £4m of bombs and missiles in the six months from October 2016.

Though those numbers are high, arms exports is not a jobs-rich industry and only 0.2 per cent of the British workforce is actually employed in the sector. And let’s just be clear – there simply is no moral justification for employing people to build bombs which are likely to be used to slaughter civilians. 

Ministers also justify friendship and arms sales to dictators as part of a foreign policy strategy. They may be despots, but they are “our despots”. The truth, however, is that such deals simply aren’t necessary for a relationship of equals. As my colleague Baroness Jones said recently in the House of Lords:

"As a politician, I understand that we sometimes have to work with some very unpleasant people and we have to sit down with them and negotiate with them. We might loathe them, but we have to keep a dialogue going. However, we do not have to sell them arms. Saudi Arabia is a brutal dictatorship. It is one of the world’s worst Governments in terms of human rights abuses. We should not be selling it arms.”

With Saudi Arabia’s offensive against targets in Yemen continuing, and with UN experts saying the attacks are breaching international law, it’s clear that we’re failing to moderate the actions of "our despots".

The government’s intransigence on this issue – despite the overwhelming moral argument – is astonishing. But it appears that the tide may be turning. In a recent survey, a significant majority of the public backed a ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and just this weekend the Mayor of London denounced the arms fair planned in the capital later this year. When the government refused to make the terror funding report public, there was near-universal condemnation from the opposition parties. On this issue, like so many others, the Tories are increasingly isolated and potentially weak.

Read more: How did the High Court decide weapon sales to Saudi Arabia are lawful?

The arms industry exists at the nexus between our country’s industrial and foreign policies. To change course we need to accept a different direction in both policy areas. That’s why I believe that we should accompany the end of arms exports to repressive regimes with a 21st century industrial policy which turns jobs in the industry into employment for the future. Imagine if the expertise of those currently building components for Saudi weaponry was turned towards finding solutions for the greatest foreign policy challenge we face: climate change. 

The future of the British military industrial establishment’s iron grip over government is now in question, and the answers we find will define this country for a generation. Do we stamp our influence on the world by putting our arm around the head-choppers of Riyadh and elsewhere, or do we forge a genuinely independent foreign policy that projects peace around the world – and puts the safety of British people at its core?

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.