Project at a glance

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Teenage pregnancy is defined as having a child within the adolescent years (10-19 years of age). It is a global public health issue of massive importance. Pregnancy and childbirth at an early age carries increased health risks for both the mother and baby. According to the World Health Organisation, complications linked to pregnancy and childbirth comprise the second cause of death for 15-19 year old girls globally. Young mothers who survive childbirth are at risk of serious health consequences. The mortality rate for children born to adolescent girls is also much higher, with babies more likely to have a low birth weight, and facing a greater risk of malnourishment and under-development. Some girls will have unsafe abortions, leading to injuries, disability and even death.

Zambia has the fifth highest adolescent birth rate in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the 2018 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS), 29% of adolescent girls aged 15-19 years had begun childbearing (were either pregnant or had already given birth.) 6.4% of adolescent girls aged 15 had already begun childbearing.

While quantitative research has been conducted into the incidence of teenage pregnancy and related issues of early marriage, there is limited understanding of the personal, relational and social factors that guide an adolescent’s decision in navigating sex, pregnancy, and marriage. The purpose of this research is to investigate the decision-making pathways of Zambian adolescent mothers, considering the various factors and power relationships that shaped her decision-making, and the consequences for her in navigating life as a teenage mother.

Given the sensitivity of the research and the need for nuanced, contextual accounts of the factors leading to teenage pregnancy, the research is designed to give respondents as much power over the process as possible. Participatory focus group discussions with adolescent mothers, and with the partners or husbands of adolescent mothers will be conducted, complemented with in-depth interviews with various stakeholders and a series of workshops upon completion of the fieldwork.

The research is expected for completion in 2021.