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Fernanda Abella
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UNINTENDED BIRTHS ON THE RISE AMONG YOUNG WOMEN IN NIGERIA

Early Marriage and Motherhood Remain Common Despite Improvements in Young Women's Education

Between 1990 and 2003, Nigeria made large improvements in young women's educational attainment, but the country experienced only modest declines in early marriage and adolescent childbearing, while the unintended birthrate rose (from 10% to 16%), according to new analysis from the New York-based Guttmacher Institute and the Women's Health and Action Research Centre in Benin City, Nigeria.

The report, Meeting Young Women's Sexual and Reproductive Health Needs in Nigeria , by Gilda Sedgh et al., analyzed nationally representative surveys and also found that the proportion of sexually active young women who knew where to obtain family planning services dropped by nearly half between 1990 and 2003, from 32% to 18%.

While the proportion of adolescent women with some secondary education increased 16 percentage points (from 34% to 50%) between 1990 and 2003, the prevalence of marriage among female adolescents declined by only six percentage points during that time, from 39% to 33%. The proportion of women aged 15–19 who were mothers declined even less, from 24% to 21%.

The slow decline in teen pregnancy can be attributed in part to low levels of contraceptive use, according to the report. The use of modern contraceptive methods among sexually active adolescent women has changed very little, from 4% in 1990 to 8% in 2003. Similarly, unmet need for modern contraception remains high: Nearly one-third of sexually active women aged 15–24 had an unmet need for contraception in 2003, meaning that they were able to become pregnant, did not want to have a child then or at all, and yet were not using a modern method.

Government policies to promote sexual and reproductive health information and services for young Nigerians exist on paper, but have not been successfully implemented, the authors report. Most programs are carried out by nongovernmental organizations with little technical or financial assistance from the state.

"We have made progress in encouraging young people to stay in school, but we are failing Nigerian adolescents when it comes to providing them with the information and services they need to delay marriage and avoid unintended pregnancies," said coauthor Prof. Friday Okonofua, executive director of the Women's Health and Action Research Centre. "Poor knowledge of family planning services leaves young women vulnerable to risks like unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV."

Prof. Okonofua noted that "advancing the sexual and reproductive health of young Nigerian women will require financial commitment from the government, as well as the political will to translate existing policies into real practices."

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