This year’s International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) saw the largest youth delegation in its history. Approximately 300 young people between the ages of 18 and 25 attended, doubling the number who participated in 2011. These young family planning activists moderated panels, delivered plenary presentations and assisted in launching ground-breaking publications, such as the United Nations Population Fund’s State of World Population 2013 report on adolescent pregnancy and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance’s paper on young people living with and affected by HIV. Young people’s needs were a major focus of conference presentations, events and press coverage. Government officials publically recognized the importance of young people and encouraged their active participation as emerging leaders in the field of family planning and reproductive health.
The attention to the unique needs of this population could not be more timely. Every day, 20,000 girls under the age of 18 in developing countries give birth. That is roughly 833 girls every hour, or 14 girls each minute. Of the 7.3 million girls who give birth each year, two million are under the age of 15 (UNFPA). Adolescent mothers face devastating social, educational, economic and health outcomes. Girls who become pregnant confront discrimination within their communities and are often forced to drop out of school or get married. Pregnancy during adolescence increases the risk of anemia, postpartum hemorrhage, prolonged obstructed labor, obstetric fistula, malnutrition and mental health disorders. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year-old girls (UNFPA). Furthermore, adolescent mothers are more likely to have a lower income and have more children at shorter intervals throughout their lifetime.