African woman carrying baby on her back

From measurement to action on adolescent reproductive health

  • Economy
  • Environment
  • Politics and International Relations
  • Society

University of Southampton 


The University of Southampton’s social statistics research on young adolescent pregnancy and maternal health has had a sustained influence on international policy, potentially improving the lives of millions of women and girls worldwide.  Researchers provided ‘evidence for action’, that highlighted the global extent of early adolescent pregnancy for girls under 16 years of age.

Research focus

Each year an estimated 16 million young women worldwide give birth between ages 15 and 19, and a further one million girls give birth before age 15. 95% of these births take place in low or middle income countries.  Births for younger adolescents  in these countries risk the lives of both the mother and child.

The research challenge was to provide evidence on the scale of births to adolescents and the impacts on their health outcomes. The second challenge was in using this information to inform and influence actions to address this issue across the world, particularly in developing countries.

Key findings

The Southampton team’s research and knowledge sharing has included:

  • Identifying health threats to girls and young women in low-income countries;
  • Identifying levels of childbearing amongst young adolescents (<16 years) in sub-Saharan Africa;
  • Identifying geographic “pockets” of childbearing amongst young adolescents;
  • Creating online resources to ensure that accurate statistics are available and easily accessible to health workers, journalists, and health policymakers;
  • Developing the “Atlas of Birth” (started 2010) to give a global picture of maternal health, highlighting preventable maternal deaths as well as the high levels of higher-risk births to adolescents.  This was developed into a website in 2015;
  • Informed and helped create MamaYe, a social accountability movement for six African countries.

The researchers worked with several key partners to bring about change, including:

  • United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH),  World Health Organization (WHO)
  • MamaYe partners in 6 countries in Africa
  • WorldPop interdisciplinary research group in Southampton

Impact and outcomes

  • Influenced the inclusion of adolescent health issues in the relaunch of the UN Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health in 2015;
  • Influenced the adoption of a UN Sustainable Development Goal indicator 3.7.2 which measures births to very young adolescent girls;
  • Measurement of this issue is driving international funding decisions and informing national policy and programmes designed to reduce adolescent births amongst the youngest and most vulnerable;
  • Improving adolescent and maternal health through increased accountability and measurement in a number of countries across the world.

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