Dr. Sunil Mehra, MD
Executive Director, MAMTA Health Institute for Mother and Child
I remember speaking in UNGASS on children in early 2002 that child marriage and child pregnancy (Adolescent Pregnancy) is the worst form of child rights violation. How can a child give birth to a child? And Child ‘Labor’ is the worst form of labour. No developed society can rest on laurels if these pregnancies continue to happen within child marriages and outside.
Just released report of Save the Children is very gratifying. India contributed significantly to global reduction in teenage pregnancy almost contributing to three fourth reduction in global teenage births. The report goes on to state that the global reduction is almost around 2 million births since 2000 (3.5 million vs 1.4 million). This reduction augurs well for country’s Maternal and Child health. We know that Adolescent pregnancies still contribute to a great extent to Adolescent deaths and in turn to overall Maternal Mortality. Not only this, adolescent pregnancy significantly contributes to premature and low birth weight babies, resulting in infant and U 5 Child mortality and morbidity (besides contributing to non-communicable disease in long run - a burden we are facing now).
It’s not a coincidence that the child marriage in India also showed a reasonable decline (although still unacceptably high) from 47.5 (2005-06, NFHS-3) to 26.8 (2015-16, NFHS – 4). This decline significantly contributed to reduction in teenage pregnancy. The challenge is that we have no authentic data on teenage pregnancy in unmarried adolescents. With declining child marriages comes the issues of Adolescent sexuality and sexual behaviour which if not adequately addressed through age appropriate information and knowledge would result in unwanted pregnancies, abortion and various other infections besides mental health issues.
While we continue to work towards reducing teenage pregnancies by “eliminating” child marriages and promoting modern contraceptive (read as spacing methods) in young and low parity couples; we need comprehensive sexuality education for our adolescents. This is critical and imperative. We need appropriate platform in schools and within families to provide scientifically correct information to our adolescents. They are our children we have a duty to provide them quality care and information. Let’s keep up our efforts in reducing teenage pregnancy and MAMTA Health Institute for Mother and Child which has been in the lead and working dedicatedly on this for last two decades will further intensifies its efforts towards this.