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Public Policy|Southampton

Counting the Invisible: Uncovering the childbearing trends of West Africa's youngest adolescents


Written by: Ann Garbett, University of Southampton, Professor Brienna Perelli-Harris, University of Southampton, Dr Sarah Neal, University of Southampton

Pregnancy in adolescence can pose severe health risks and long term social and economic disadvantage to young mothers and their babies, but childbearing patterns among the youngest remain essentially invisible. Common fertility measures exclude mothers aged 14 years and younger, and do not distinguish 15-year-old mothers from 19-year-olds even though the causes and consequences of motherhood at these ages differ considerably. Repeat births in adolescence, which carry additional serious health risks, are also obscured by traditional measures. Almost nothing is known about patterns of second and third (or more) births to adolescents.

Our innovative research, using nationally representative survey data, dives deep into West Africa’s adolescent childbearing trends to detail the patterns of the youngest vulnerable mothers. It reveals important and alarming trends.

The report outlines key findings from a comprehensive study of advanced demogrpahic techniques of the birth histories of nearly 400,000 women born from 1940 to 1994 from 51 Demographic and Health Surveys in twelve West African countries and their impacts on policy. 

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