Every year, an estimated two million girls give birth before they turn 15. Child mothers are often out of school, married and experience serious health complications from their pregnancies or deliveries. In fact, around 70,000 girls between the ages of 10-19 die from birth-related complications every year.
While these statistics are startling, they are just estimates, because the exact numbers are unclear as girls under the age of 15 are often invisible in national and global statistics and in turn, are excluded from aide and interventions.
To highlight the growing global crisis of very early motherhood and “make the invisible mothers visible,” child rights organization Plan International and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched a project called #childmothers. The joint effort, which was introduced at the global conference Women Deliver in Copenhagen last week, aims to inspire support for young mothers and seek solutions to prevent very early motherhood.
“Around 70,000 girls between the ages of 10-19 die from birth-related complications every year.”
Internationally renowned photographer Pieter ten Hoopen and journalist Sofia Klemming Nordenskiöld met with child mothers in six countries across four continents. Through their photos, interviews and short videos, the young mothers shared their own stories.
“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,” Sofia Klemming Nordenskiöld explains on the project’s website. “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.”
** The girls and their families gave their consent to participate in this project; all names have been changed for their protection. To learn more about early motherhood, visit Plan-International.
Rabeya, 16 – Bangladesh
I didn’t realise when I got pregnant the first time. I had no knowledge about sexual education or family planning.
Since I was 13, I have been pregnant 3 times. Kushum is my first daughter and the only one who survived.
I don’t want to have any more children. I don’t have any more energy. I’m happy with my one child and thankfully my husband agrees.
Lumilene, 15 – Haiti
I wanted to get rid of the baby but my mom didn’t agree.
After more than 24 hours in labour, I finally gave birth. It took time for me to heal. I couldn’t walk and my whole body ached.
I’m not the only one in school who is a mother. Unfortunately, most young girls here have parents that are very poor… some of the girls trade sex for money.
Violence isn’t unusual, I have friends who’ve been abused. Here, it’s hard for a girl to say no.
Zainab, 15 – Jordan
I used to go to school in my country (Syria), but we left because of the situation there. Now we live in a camp.
I’d like to use contraception… I haven’t done it yet. I’ve heard that some of them have side effects.
My life now is about my children. I don’t want to go back to school. I have a responsibility to take care of my children, my husband and my home. That’s it.
Kiswendsida, 15 – Burkina Faso
I got pregnant at 14. I was with a boyfriend. My family reacted badly when they found out and now I don’t see him anymore.
When I was pregnant I continued going to school. One week after I gave birth I was back in school again. I didn’t want to abandon my studies.
In the future I would like to have more children. I think 26 is a good age.
(lead photo) Mulenga, 15 – Zambia
I had no idea how you get pregnant. I didn’t even know I was pregnant. We didn’t learn about those things at school. I was afraid of the delivery. I thought I might die.
I don’t like being a mother, but I like my child. I worry about the future and who will buy her things like soap and clothes.