Laos is suffering from a high rate of teenage pregnancy, with four out of ten women pregnant or already having given birth to their first child by the age of 19, according to a press release from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
In Laos more than 60 percent of the population is under 25 years old, and at least half of this group at girls. The UNFPA press release focused, in particular, on the high prevalence of teenage pregnancy in Laos. A recent survey in the country found that for every thousand adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 in Laos, there are at least 94 births annually.
“Teenage pregnancy is not just a health issue,” said UNFPA Representative Dr Esther Muia speaking at an event commemorating Thursday’s World Population Day. “It is a social ill, and it is a development concern. It is deeply rooted in poverty, gender inequality, violence, child and forced marriage, power imbalances between adolescent girls and their male partners, and lack of education.”
Reducing teenage pregnancy would also reduce infant and maternal mortality, a major goal for Laos, one of the less developed nations in Southeast Asia. Babies of teenage mothers are 50 percent more likely to die, tend to have a low birth weight, and more predisposed to a variety of illnesses than babies from women in the 20 to 29 age range.
The Minister of Planning and Investment (MPI) Dr. Somdy Duangdy, who chaired the meeting, said “Complications during pregnancy, childbirth and/or after are the leading cause of deaths among adolescent girls in most developing countries including Laos. Therefore reducing, towards reducing maternal deaths, it is important to work towards eliminating unplanned adolescent pregnancy.”
Girls presented with the right skills and opportunities, by contrast, can better invest in their own livelihoods and those of their families, communities, and nations, argued the press release. Muia commended the government of Laos for their efforts so far in providing age-appropriate sexual education to adolescents and youth, as well as providing good quality reproductive health services.
The World Population Day celebration, held in the Lao capital of Vientiane, also featured 20 local music and dance acts and an exhibition of projects and initiatives for young people of different Lao government, UN agencies, and NGO groups. This year’ s World Population Day was themed to highlight and promote the needs of adolescent girls.
The day’s events were organized by the Lao government, various Lao development bodies, and the UNFPA.