JAMAICA'S teen pregnancy rate is the fourth highest in the region despite gains in lowering the fertility rate among the demographic, according to the 2013 State of the World Population Report which turns the spotlight on girls who become mothers before their 18th birthday.
With a birth rate of 72 per 1,000 adolescent girls, Jamaica lags only behind Belize, 90, Guyana, 97, and the Dominica Republic that, with a rate of 98 per 1,000 teens, is the highest in the region. Rounding off the top five is St Vincent and the Grenadines with a rate of 70.
According to the report, titled Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the challenge of adolescent pregnancy, a total of 20,000 girls under age 18 give birth each day in Jamaica and other developing countries.
More shockingly, girls under 15 make up two million (27.4 per cent) of the 7.3 million teens who become mothers each year — a figure that is projected to rise to three million a year in 2030 if urgent steps are not taken to curb current trends.
The report said Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) was the only region where births to girls under age 15 increased. As a region, the LAC stands at third with an adolescent birth rate of 79 per 1,000 teens.
Overall, West and Central Africa lead all regions with 129 births, followed by South Africa at 109. The rate of Arab states stands at 50, South Asia at 49, Eastern Europe and Central Asia at 31, and East Asia and the Pacific at 20.
The United Nation's Population Fund (UNFPA), which compiled the report, pointed out that impoverished, poorly educated and rural girls were more likely to become pregnant than their wealthier, educated and urban peers.
"Girls from ethnic minorities or marginalised groups, and those who have limited or no access to sexual and reproductive health are also at greater risk," the UNFPA noted in the report, which was launched yesterday at a function held at the Chinese Benevolent Centre in St Andrew.
"... Girls who remain in school longer are less likely to become pregnant. Education prepares girls for future jobs and livelihoods, raises their self-esteem and their status, gives them more say in decisions affecting their lives," added the report.
At yesterday's launch, Siti Oussein, deputy director at UNFPA's Sub-Regional Office for the Caribbean, stressed the importance of girls being allowed to live normal lives.
"Each pregnancy brings great risks to a girl," she said. "It endangers her health. It takes a psychological toll. Very often it forces her to leave school. And a girl without an education is a girl who lacks the skills to find a job and build a future for herself and her family and to contribute to her nation's development."
The UNFPA, meanwhile, has called for a shift from targeted interventions to "broad-based approaches that build girls' human capital" and help them make decisions about their lives, "including those related to their sexual and reproductive health, and offer them real opportunities so that motherhood is not seen as their only destiny".
"This new approach must target the circumstances, conditions, norms, values, and structural forces that perpetuate adolescent pregnancies on the one hand and that isolate and marginalise pregnant girls on the other," the UNFPA stated.