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Global Initiative Puts the Spotlight on Invisible Child Mothers

LONDON and NEW YORK - Plan International and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund - lead agency for advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights - have launched #childmothers, a global initiative to inspire support for young mothers and to prevent very early motherhood.

It is estimated that every year over two million girls give birth before they turn 15. Every day, 5,500 very young girls are pushed from childhood into motherhood. The exact numbers are unclear as girls under 15 are often invisible in national and global statistics, which mainly covers "women in reproductive age,” considered to be from 15 to 49.

If all children up to 18 that give birth are considered, the number of child mothers would be much higher. #childmothers is a web platform (www.childmothers.org) and a travelling photo exhibition dedicated to the issue of motherhood in girls under 15 that will give them a voice. Their lives remain largely undocumented and under-researched, and therefore overlooked in development policies and programs. The initiative aims to galvanize governments to create support systems for young girls who become pregnant and to place a focus on preventing very early motherhood.

“What is needed is a new way of thinking about the challenge of adolescent pregnancy. Instead of viewing the girl as the problem and changing her behavior as the solution, governments, communities, families, and schools should see poverty, gender inequality, discrimination, lack of access to services, and negative views about girls and women as the real challenges, and the pursuit of social justice, equitable development, and the empowerment of girls as the true pathway to fewer adolescent pregnancies,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

Child mothers are often out of school, married, and may have serious health complications from their pregnancy or delivery. Many do not survive. It is estimated that 70,000 girls between the age of 10-19 die from birth-related complications every year.

“There are millions of girls in the world who become mothers when they are children. These girls are often denied their rights and need support. We need to recognize what works for married women in their thirties does not automatically work for young girls. Very young girls face the greatest health risks in pregnancy and child birth, and are often excluded from society,” said Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International.

#childmothers features compelling stories and portraits of very young mothers from different parts of the world – documented by internationally acclaimed photographer and filmmaker Pieter ten Hoopen and Plan International Sweden.

An exhibition showcasing their work will be inaugurated at the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen on May 17th to coincide with the Women Deliver conference – the world’s largest gathering on girls’ and women’s health and rights in more than a decade. The exhibition will then travel globally to raise awareness of very early motherhood.

"I shouldn’t have had a baby at my age. I’m too young. I can’t even take care of him," said Angelica, 13, from Haiti who has a three-month-old baby. She is one of the young mothers whose story has been documented in the project.

The #childmothers initiative wants to place the issue of very early motherhood on the global agenda and create a platform for discussion. Plan International and UNFPA are calling for:

  • Very young mothers to be made visible in statistics, strategies, and programs;
  • More investment to prevent very early pregnancy and support young mothers. Approaches need to be sensitive to adolescents' particular needs and must address poverty, gender inequality, lack of access to services and stigma, as well as supporting the enforcement of national laws; and
  • More investment to prevent very early pregnancy and support young mothers. Approaches need to be sensitive to adolescents' particular needs and must address poverty, gender inequality, lack of access to services and stigma, as well as supporting the enforcement of national laws; and
  • Parents, community leaders, teachers, decision-makers, and young people themselves need to be involved to create supportive environments where adolescents can make informed decisions about their lives.

About UNFPA

UNFPA is the lead UN agency for delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person's potential is fulfilled. UNFPA was established in 1969 and is working in more than a 150 countries to advance sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in the developing world. UNFPA collaborates with governments, civil society and other agencies to advance its mission: to expand the possibilities for women and young people to lead healthy and productive lives.

About Plan International

Plan International is an independent child rights organization that works to end poverty among children. The organization implements programs in over 50 countries across Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Plan International works to safeguard access to sexual and reproductive health services, information, and education, so that all children, adolescents, and youth are empowered to make important decisions about their own lives.

Plan International’s participation in the #childmothers initiative is part of the organization’s Because I am a Girl global movement that aims to create a world that values girls, promotes girls' rights and ends injustice. Through more than 500 girls-focused projects, Plan International has helped transform the lives of close to 5 million girls directly since Because I am a Girl launched in 2012. In that same period, the lives of more than 40 million girls and boys were indirectly improved as a result of Plan International’s work, showing the impact gender programming has on broader communities, schools and families.

About Plan International USA

Plan International USA, part of the Plan International Federation, is a child-centered development organization that believes in the promise and potential of children. For more than 75 years in over 50 developing countries, Plan has been breaking the cycle of child poverty. Everything Plan does – from strengthening health care systems to improving the quality of education, to advocating for increased protection and beyond – is built with, and owned by, the community. The result is a development approach designed to improve the lives of the youngest members of the community for the longest period of time. For more information, please visit PlanUSA.org.

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