Friday, June 29, 2012


No girl should die giving birth A report from Save the Children ahead of the London summit on family planning argues that too many young girls die because their bodies are not ready for childbirth Another report on family planning – in what I suspect will become a deluge as the London summit nears – is published today. This one is by Save the Children and I find it particularly interesting because it broadens the debate. The issues highlighted so far have been largely logistical – how do you supply clinics in far-flung rural outposts of Africa with all the injectables and condoms that couples want? Married couples, that is usually, who have maybe four or more children already and want to stop. Certainly they need and deserve assistance, but Save's report also looks at another group entirely – the young women, sometimes no more than children themselves, who risk their lives and those of their babies if they become pregnant inside or outside of marriage. This is what it says: Worldwide, complications in pregnancy are the number one killer of girls and young women aged 15-19. Every year 50,000 teenage girls and young women die during pregnancy or childbirth, in many cases because their bodies are not ready to bear children. Babies born to mothers are also at far greater risk than those whose mothers are older. Each year around 1 million babies born to adolescent girls die before their first birthday … Many adolescent girls know little or nothing about family planning, let alone where to get it. Their low status within their families, communities and societies mean they lack the power to make their own decisions about whether or when to have a baby. No girl should die giving birth, and no child should die as a result of its mother being too young. This touches on some of the crucial issues which have caused such tension in the past among groups with strong religious, cultural or social views that the need for family planning has been pushed aside into a backwater. The low status of girls and their power to make decisions over their own bodies is fundamental. A recent report by Gordon Brown on child brides looked at the shocking reality from a different perspective – another way to tackle it is through education. The London summit on 11 July will hopefully be a golden moment. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and DfID, which have made it happen, want it to be the launch of a global movement for family planning. That will have to encompass the needs and lack of empowerment of girls as well as older mothers, and the solutions lie way beyond the family planning clinic. If the summit can raise expectations and aspirations for girls and women all over the world as well as raising money, it will be doing a great job.

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