About this initiative
#childmothers is a joint initiative between Plan International and UNFPA, United Nations Population Fund, to highlight the issue of very early motherhood.
Girls who give birth before they turn 15 years of age have increased risks of complications and death from pregnancy and childbirth compared to other age groups. They are very often out of school, married, and may live with serious health complications from their pregnancy or delivery – some do not survive. Yet, child mothers are often invisible in national and global statistics, and overlooked in development interventions.
Internationally awarded photographer Pieter ten Hoopen and journalist Sofia Klemming Nordenskiöld have met child mothers in six countries across four continents. Through photos, interviews and short videos, the young mothers shared their own stories of very early motherhood: of how these girls became child mothers; of their struggles and happiness; of their shattered and new dreams – for themselves and their children.
The girls featured in the exhibition were identified by country offices and local partners of UNFPA and Plan International. Some girls participated in ongoing programmes to support young mothers and their babies.
#childmothers has been developed in accordance with the ethical guidelines of Plan International and UNFPA. The girls and their families have given their consent to participate, all names have been changed and we do not provide detailed information on where they live. With #childmothers, Plan International and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, seek to give these girls a voice. Additional efforts must be made to reach very young girls; to protect them; to enable them to make their own life choices; and to give those who are already mothers a better chance to go back to school and pursue their dreams.
#childmothers – behind the scenes
Photographer Pieter ten Hoopen and I spent the last months traveling the world with our portable studio in order to document more than 25 child mothers. The portable studio was Pieter's idea.
He wanted to create vintage family portraits that would give the young girls and their children our full attention, in a dignified way. By using the same background and setting, his idea was to show that this is a global issue that creates similar challenges, regardless of where the child mothers happen to live.
The fabric we used for the studio started out as a nice, off-white color. By the end of the tour, it had become covered with red soil, brown clay and gray dust from the four continents that we visited. During our photo sessions, we asked the local children and neighbours to chase away any dogs, goats, cows and chickens. We waited hours for the right photo opportunity – for the rain to pass, the wind to stop blowing and the sun to disappear.
Gaining access to the villages where some of these child mothers live was a challenge in itself; we often got lost on the winding tracks of the savanna and stuck in city traffic jams. In some countries, we were not welcome because the topic of early motherhood was considered too sensitive. (Not to mention the two terrorist attacks that temporarily put our work on hold.)
Still, this is obviously nothing compared to the everyday challenges of the child mothers who we had the honour to meet.
During this project, I often thought a lot about my own youth. What if I had become a mother back then? When I was 14, I loved horses and used to hang out in the stables. I also liked to wear make-up, listen to Prince and I had a boyfriend who was 17.
It was not until I was 30 that I gave birth to my first child – more than twice the age of 13-year-old Angelica, who we interviewed in this project. I had a career, a partner of my own choice, a safe place to live and free health care – yet I still worried about not being able to give my son everything he needed.
Angelica worries about not having enough to eat.
She was thrown out of the hospital during her difficult delivery because she could not pay for the care and she has been forced to leave school. Still, for her son Lucner, she remains the center of his universe.
Angelica and Lucner are two children against the rest of the world.
The girls we met have opened their hearts and their homes to tell us about their lives. They have shared their honest experiences about first love, separations and arranged marriages; angry parents, illnesses, utter loneliness as well as intense feelings of joy and of pain. Some of the girls we met nearly lost their lives during their complicated deliveries. Others sadly lost their babies.
With their trust comes huge responsibility; for us to protect them and to do them justice. We have decided not to share all the stories we have heard. Some girls have suffered such extreme physical and psychological violence due to their early pregnancies. One girl told us that she was almost beaten to death because of the shame she had brought upon her family while others were forced to perform unsafe abortions, for fear of being thrown out of their home.
We also know that many young girls who become pregnant are victims of sexual abuse. As a result, some of their stories have been modified so as not to put their safety at risk, while others have been left out altogether.
There are still so many stories yet to be told. In #childmothers we have selected only a few in the hopes that they serve as an eye-opener. These young mothers' bravery has taught us what it is like to be a child – and a mother – at the same time.
Sofia Klemming Nordenskiöld
Press Officer, Plan International Sweden
Plan International and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, would like to thank those who have contributed to #childmothers: first and foremost the child mothers themselves who have shared their stories; our partner organizations; and Danida and Sida for their financial support.
About Pieter ten Hoopen
Pieter ten Hoopen is an experienced and internationally acclaimed photographer and filmmaker based in Stockholm, Sweden. Transitioning between editorial work, personal projects and commercial assignments, he has a wide range of clients such as The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Le Monde and Plan International. In 2015, Pieter’s project ‘Hungry Horse’ was nominated for an Emmy Award. Pieter has previously won the World Press Photo and been awarded ‘Photojournalist of the Year’ several times.
About Sofia Klemming Nordenskiöld
Sofia Klemming Nordenskiöld is a journalist and a press officer at Plan International Sweden. Sofia has documented children’s and women’s rights for more than 20 years for Swedish radio, newspapers and magazines. At Plan International, Sofia has worked together with Pieter ten Hoopen to document child mothers and children affected by various disasters.
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is the lead UN agency for delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every child birth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled. UNFPA is working in more than a 150 countries to advance sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. UNFPA partners with governments, civil society, private sector and academia and adopts a human rights-based approach throughout its work. UNFPA focuses on women and young people – also in humanitarian response.
What is UNFPA doing?
Addressing adolescent pregnancy and motherhood is a key component of UNFPA’s work to uphold the rights of adolescents. UNFPA supports partnerships and advocacy efforts to raise awareness about child pregnancy, including its causes and consequences. It also works with governments and partners at all levels to foster supportive policies, legislation and dialogue to promote the dignity and rights of girls and adolescents. Through a variety of means, including advocacy and communication, UNFPA draws attention to girls’ needs and realities, given the harmful and life-threatening risks they face from pregnancies before age 18. In collaboration with communities, UNFPA assists programmes that enable parents, elders, religious and other leaders to identify the dangers of pregnancies before age 18, promote the rights of girls, and find community-owned, collective solutions to discourage and eventually end the practice. It also aids the most marginalized and vulnerable girls in deferring pregnancy by advocating that they stay in school; supports programmes that build their life skills; helps provide safe spaces to learn, play and make friends; delivers sexual and reproductive health and HIV information and services; and assists in improving girls’ economic and social well-being.
See more at: www.unfpa.org
About Plan International
Plan International strives for a just world that advances children’s rights and equality for girls. Plan International is active in more than 70 countries and works in communities together with children and young people to support their right to education, health and protection from violence and abuse, also during disasters. Ensuring girls’ and young women realise their rights to sexual and reproductive health is a critical part of enabling them to make their own life decision – to decide over their own bodies; if, when and who to marry and have children. As part of this work, Plan International also influences states at a national, regional and global level to take their responsibility so that children’s rights are observed.
What is Plan International doing?
Plan International works with children, parents, communities, partners and governments to ensure that every child’s right is respected. Plan works to make sure that children, adolescents and youth can attend school and receive a quality education. Access to education is essential in the work to prevent early pregnancy and motherhood but it is also important to support girls who are already pregnant or have had children to be able to continue their education.
Plan International also works to safeguard access to sexual and reproductive health services, information and education, so that all children, adolescents and youth are empowered to make important decisions about their own lives.
Plan advocates for the elimination of all forms of discrimination and inequality in law, policy and practice, and have, alongside other actors, influenced the amendment of laws and policies on girls’ rights, including laws on child marriage.
Plan International is committed to drive a global movement that transforms power relations so girls everywhere can learn, lead, decide and thrive. Since 2012, Plan has reached millions of girls directly through the global movement Because I am a Girl. Teen pregnancy is a priority area within the Because I am a Girl movement.
See more at: www.plan-international.org
#childmothers is a joint initiative between Plan International and UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) to highlight the issue of very early motherhood. #childmothers contains a photo exhibition and a web platform about early adolescent pregnancy and early motherhood, focusing on girls who give birth before they turn 15. #childmothers includes photos, interviews, and short videos with young mothers from six countries, representing four regions. With #childmothers, Plan International and UNFPA seek to give these girls a voice. Additional efforts must be made to reach the very young girls – to protect them, to enable them to make their own life choices, and to give those who are already mothers a better chance of returning to school and pursuing their dreams. The photo exhibition was launched in Copenhagenin May 2016, and there are a number of travelling photo exhibitions.
It is estimated that 2 million girls under the age of 15 give birth every year, but reliable data on very young mothers is scarce, incomplete or non-existent in many countries. The reproductive age is often considered to be 15-49 years, making young mothers under the age of 15 invisible in national and global statistics. . Yet, they face great risks related to pregnancy and childbirth. Young mothers are also often excluded or beyond the reach of health, education and development institutions, since they are often in forced marriages, preventing them from attending school and/or accessing sexual and reproductive health services. We want to make the invisible visible by giving these girls a voice.
Award-winning photographer Pieter ten Hoopen, together with journalist Sofia Klemming Nordienskiöld, travelled with their mobile studio to meet more than 25 young mothers in six different countries. They performed interviews and used both film and photography to document the girls' lives.
We visited six countries in four regions; Bangladesh, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Jordan, Colombia and Haiti. It is important to note that adolescent pregnancies occur in all regions and countries, across age and income groups. However, worldwide, girls who are poor, live in rural or remote areas, and have limited education are more likely to become pregnant at an early age compared to other girls. They also face greater challenges during pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood.
Staff from Plan International, UNFPA, and their partner organizations identified and contacted young mothers in areas where the organisations operate. The girls and their families have given their permission to participate.
Some of the girls are participating in programs run by Plan International, UNFPA or any of our partner organisations. Those who are not have been informed of and encouraged to join programs that support young mothers, where those are available.
#childmothers is funded by Plan International, UNFPA, Danida and Sida.
It is estimated that 2 million girls under the age of 15 give birth every year, but reliable data on very young mothers are scarce, incomplete or non-existent in many countries. Most data related to pregnancy and sexual and reproductive health focus on girls and women over the age of 15, and it is estimated that there are 7.3 million births that occur to girls under 18 every year in developing countries – the equivalent of 20,000 girls every day.
There are many underlying causes to unintended adolescent pregnancy and motherhood, including child marriage, gender inequality, poverty, sexual violence and coercion, and lack of access to contraception, sexuality education, and youth-friendly health services.
Adolescent pregnancy and motherhood is closely linked with child, early and forced marriages. One in nine girls are married before the age of 15 in developing countries (except China), and one in three girls are married before the age of 18. Nine in ten births among adolescent girls occur within marriage.
Unintended adolescent pregnancy and motherhood is a global challenge that occurs in all regions of the world. However, the majority of births to young girls under the age of 15 occur in developing countries, primarily in Africa, but also in Asia and Latin America. Adolescent pregnancies occur in developed countries but on a much smaller scale.
Pregnancy can affect a girl's life in numerous ways, but is often measured in terms of health, education and economic productivity. Girls under the age of 15 face the greatest risks of complications and death from pregnancy and childbirth, including obstetric fistula, complications of unsafe abortion, sexually transmitted infections and health risks to infants. Young mothers are often out of school and may face barriers in continuing their education.
Preventing unintended adolescent pregnancies require multilevel interventions that address a number of complex drivers and the interplay between these. For example, it requires national laws that enable adolescents’ access to contraception, enforcement of laws banning child marriage, and engagement and support of families and communities to change harmful social norms and traditions. It requires schools to provide sexuality education and having teachers that are comfortable to provide this information, and it also requires work at the individual level to build knowledge and skills among adolescents so they can make informed decisions about their health and sexuality.
A global problem
Very early motherhooda global challenge
Adolescent pregnancy and early motherhood are global challenges that occur in all countries of the world. What is common to every region, however, is that girls who are poor, live in rural or remote areas and have little education are more likely to become pregnant at an early age than other girls.
The vast majority of births to adolescents (aged 10-19 years) occur in developing countries. Reliable data on pregnancies among girls under the age of 15 is scarce, incomplete or non-existent in many countries.
Latin America and Caribbean6 girls with 6 different stories
In Latin America and Caribbean, it is estimated that 2 per cent of girls give birth before they turn 15, but there are substantial differences in adolescent birth rates among countries in the same region. Births to girls under age 15 are projected to rise in Latin America and Caribbean through 2030. Read more about Janet, Ana and Rosario from Colombia –and Angelica, Lumilene and Elianne from Haiti.
In South Asia, it is estimated that 4 per cent of girls give birth before they turn 15, but there are substantial differences in adolescent birth rates among countries in the same region. In Bangladesh, for example, it is estimated that one girl in 10 has a child before the age of 15. Read the stories of Nargis, Anita and Rabeya from Bangladesh.
In East and Southern Africa, it is estimated that 4 per cent of girls give birth before they turn 15, but there are substantial differences in adolescent birth rates among countries in the same region. Births to girls under age 15 are projected to nearly double in the next 17 years in sub-Saharan Africa. Read the stories of Mulenga, Taonga, Thandiwe and Monde from Zambia.
Humanitarian crises disproportionally impact women and adolescent girls, who are at increased risk of unintended pregnancy, maternal death, HIV infection, gender-based violence, child marriage and trafficking. Read the stories of Amira, Zainab and Muna who live as refugees in Jordan.
In West and Central Africa, it is estimated that 6 per cent of girls give birth before they turn 15, but there are substantial differences in adolescent birth rates among countries in the same region. Births to girls under age 15 are projected to nearly double in the next 17 years in sub-Saharan Africa. Read the stories of Aïssa, Poko and Kiswendsida from Burkina Faso.