Alarming increase in number of teenage mothers in Cambodia puts health of youngest children at risk

Monday 4 June 2018

New report highlights the risk of exclusion for young Cambodian mothers and children 

A dramatic increase in the number of teenage mothers in Cambodia is putting the wellbeing of some of the nation’s youngest children at risk, says Save the Children. 

The warning comes as the aid agency launches its second flagship global report, End of Childhood: The Many Faces of Exclusion, in the lead up to International Children's Day. Thereportexamines countries on a range of indicators related to childhood, with more than 30 percent of children in Cambodia suffering stunting, 1 in 5 out of school and nearly 20 percent engaged in child labour. 

In the report’s index, which ranks countries according to where childhood is most and least threatened, Cambodia fell two places to 119th out of the 175 countries analysed, while regional neighbours Thailand (85), Vietnam (96), the Philippines (104) and Indonesia (105) also slipped down the rankings. Meanwhile China improved one spot to 40. 

“We know there is much to celebrate in Cambodia as the situation for some children improve, but significant indicators – such as the rise in teenage pregnancy – mean that the overall trend is not progressing as fast as desired. In just four years Cambodia endured a 50 percent increase in the number teenage pregnancies being reported, increasing from 8 percent of teenage girls to 12 percent,” Save the Children Country Director in Cambodia, Elizabeth Pearce said. 

“Realities like this not only rob these young mothers of their own childhoods, but also puts the future of their children at risk. Teenage mothers, by virtue of their young age and the social stigma they often face, do not always have the experience, skills, access to services or the financial security needed to provide the best care for their children. This means Cambodia needs to further invest in reducing teenage pregnancy, but also in holistic early childhood programs that ensure these newborns are not further disadvantaged from birth.” 

The global report highlights strong links between a lack of education and teenage pregnancy, stating that 37 percent of Cambodian girls aged 15-19 with no education are already mothers or pregnant with their first child, compared to 8 percent of girls with secondary or higher education. 

Save the Children is urging the Cambodian government to provide the support and education young adolescents need to make informed choices in terms of their sexual and reproductive health, and to ensure increased investment in early childhood care and development programs to ensure all children can access services that support their early learning and development. 

“Most teenage mothers in Cambodia live in disadvantaged communities in rural provinces, where they have missed out on the progress that has lifted up many of their peers. By virtue of being ill-prepared for parenthood, that disadvantage is passed onto their newborns,” Ms Pearce said. 

“We need the Cambodian government to provide leadership and invest in nurturing care from conception through the early years for all children and caregivers, even those living in the most remote, rural and difficult to reach areas. These efforts reduce the number of girls becoming mums too early, and provide the necessary nurturing environment for all children to thrive.”  

In its second year, the End of Childhood report includes a ranking of 175 countries where childhood is most and least threatened as a result of poor health, malnutrition, exclusion from education, child labour, child marriage, early pregnancy and extreme violence. 

Singapore and Slovenia both rank first, with Norway, Sweden and Finland rounding out the top five. Eight of the bottom 10 countries are in West and Central Africa, with Niger ranked last for the second year running. 

The report also found that: 

  • More than one billion children live in countries plagued by poverty; 240 million in countries affected by conflict and fragility; and more than 575 million girls live in countries where gender bias is a serious issue.
  • Almost 153 million children are living in 20 countries affected by all three threats—including South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan.
  • The incidence of child labour in countries affected by armed conflict is 77% higher than the global average. Conflict also makes girls more vulnerable to child marriage.
  • Only four of 34 fragile or conflict-affected states with available data have achieved, or nearly achieved, universal primary education. 

Save the Children is calling on governments around the world to ensure that no child dies from preventable or treatable causes or is subjected to extreme violence; is robbed of a future as a result of malnutrition, early or forced marriage, early pregnancy, or forced labour; and that they have access to a quality education.