By Sonia Elks
LONDON, Nov 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Six million unwanted pregnancies and two million unsafe abortions could be avoided each year by helping teenage girls in developing countries to get reliable contraception, researchers said on Friday.
More action is needed to help girls plan their families said researchers from the Guttmacher Institute, a U.S.-based organisation focused on sexual health and reproductive rights.
"It's vital for young people be able to control whether and when they want to have children," Elizabeth Sully, a senior research scientist at the Institute, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Giving them that control allows them to make other choices that improve their health and well-being and also reduce maternal deaths, unsafe abortions and unintended pregnancies."
About 20 million girls aged between 15 and 19 in the developing world were sexually active but did not want a child for at least two years and lacked access to reliable contraception, researchers said.
More than three quarters of them were using no contraceptive method at all, while the remaining group used less effective techniques including withdrawal or abstinence when they thought they were fertile.
It would cost an average of $25 per person to provide contraception to every girl who needed it in the developing world – adding up to a total of $889 million worldwide each year, researchers found.
Doing so would result in 2.4 million fewer unplanned births and 2.9 million fewer abortions annually – two thirds of which would have been unsafe.
Maternal deaths linked to complications from pregnancy in teenagers would also drop by about 6,000 each year.
Sully said the reasons were complex. Some girls were victims of child marriage or abusive relationships while others were not aware of their options or feared side-effects from medication.
The report's authors urged more work to promote reproductive choice, including education programmes for girls and boys, action to combat sexual abuse and outreach work through schools.
Family planning charity Marie Stopes International said teenage pregnancy often meant the end to a girl's education and a lifetime with fewer opportunities.
"If the world is serious about gender equality, it's vital that every woman and girl who wants contraception is able to access it," said a spokesman.
(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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