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New strategies for tackling teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone

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Summary of story from IPS, April 3, 2011

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will today launch a report on the high rates of teenage pregnancy in the West African country of Sierra Leone, posing a high risk to both mothers and children.

They account for 40% of maternal deaths in the country, while neonatal deaths are 50% more likely in children born to teenage mothers and low birth weights are more frequent.

Early marriage is advocated by traditional culture in Sierra Leone and a 2008 World Health Organisation report found that 70% of teenage girls are married.

Another reason for the high rates of teenage pregnancy is extreme poverty, which can force women into having sex so that they are able to afford basic commodities like food and clothes.

UNICEF has found that teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone tends to mean the end of a girl’s education, as well as contributing to unstable marriages, poverty and social stigma.

Maud Droogleever Fortuyn, child protection director for UNICEF Sierra Leone, acknowledged that changing behaviour and attitudes would take time.

However, she added that UNICEF’s research was helping to understand the nature of teenage pregnancy in the country, in order to develop knowledge in collaboration with traditional authorities, and support young mothers to complete their education.

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