8 years ago

What kind of future do we want for our girls?

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Young age is meant for study, cheering with friends and preparing oneself for future life. Youths, particularly aged between 15 and 19, are full of life and brimming with confidence to conquer the world if given the opportunity. But what are we doing with our teenagers, especially our girls? We wrap them in marriages and entrust them with the responsibility of children when most of these girls are considered as children according to UN law as well as our own.
Teenage marriage and pregnancy are not so uncommon in our society, almost 45 per cent of the girls between 15 and 19 years are currently married (Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey 2014) and 31 per cent either have had a live birth or are pregnant with first child. This trend of teenage marriage and teenage pregnancy has been continuing in the same vein for the last one decade (Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey, BDHS 2007 to BDHS 2014). Use of modern contraceptives is also very low among the teenage married girls and currently not half of the married teenage girls are using any modern method (BDHS 2014) although physically they are considered to be very fertile. The use of modern contraceptives has only increased by 10 per cent among the married teenage girls.
The societal norms and culture may be responsible for early pregnancy. But as we have progressed in our demographic and health indictors and achieved tremendous success in reducing maternal and child mortality, we also need to give priority to the issue of teenage marriage and teenage pregnancy as this may be a cause of morbidity among the married teenage girls. Teenage pregnancy has been the leading cause of maternal and newborn deaths among the women. It not only causes death, lifelong physical and mental trauma is also possible from the complications arising out of early pregnancy.
Teenage pregnancy and motherhood is a major social and health risk for our country and an obstacle to our success in maternal health and child health. Teenage marriage creates a stiff obstruction to education and empowerment of the girls, while early pregnancy affects the health and nutrition of the girls and also the health condition of the offsprings. 
What we could possibly do to lessen the burden of early pregnancy of the teenage girls is to follow the legal age of marriage to delay the early pregnancy, increase the use of modern contraceptives among married teens and also run extensive behaviour change communication programmes for the teenagers, parents and also for the in-laws. A paradigm of these elements could be the Adolescent Welfare Programme as stated in the Bangladesh Population Policy 2012. 
Having the sustainable development goals (SDGs) in our hand, we now need to decide what future we will create for our daughters and sisters - a beautifully engraved empowered life or just the burden of early pregnancy where a child herself has to become a mother, a caretaker or a teacher of another child. Now is the time for us to decide what we want.
The writer is a Research Officer, MCHD, ICDDR, B.

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