MDG 5, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND MATERNAL HEALTH IN AFRICA
reorientation, early marriage/teenage pregnancy remains pervasive in
several African countries. For example, in Ethiopia and certain countries in
West Africa, girls as young as seven or eight are routinely being given in
marriage. 57 In Central and Western Africa, forty and forty-nine percent
respectively of girls are married before they turn nineteen. 58 Though most
of these countries subscribe to regional and international human rights
treaties outlawing child marriage, the combined force of poverty, antiquated
religious and cultural norms, and widespread illiteracy perpetuate the
practice, even amongst the elite. 59
Studies show that there are many adverse consequences that could result
from teenage pregnancy, affecting both mother and child. 60 In general, the
likelihood of successful pregnancy and childbirth improves with age.
Teenage girls are more likely than adults to die from complications related
to pregnancy and childbirth. 61 A child born to a mother who is under
eighteen years old has a sixty percent greater risk of dying in his or her first
year of life than when the mother has attained the age of eighteen or older. 62
Obstetric fistula affects teenage pregnant women at a greater rate than
adult women. 63 And the fact that this condition is far more common in
Africa and Asia64 is explicable solely on the basis of higher prevalence of
early marriages in these parts of the world. Described as the “the most
devastating of all pregnancy-related disabilities,” 65 obstetric fistula can be
drastically reduced or eliminated by integrating the following interventions
57. UNICEF, Early Marriage: Child Spouses, 7 INNOCENTI DIGEST 4 (2001), available
59. See ACRWC, supra note 21 (“Child marriage and the betrothal of girls and boys
shall be prohibited and effective action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify the
minimum age of marriage to be 18 years . . . .”).
60. MILLENNIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS REPORT 2009, supra note 31, at 28.
63. L. Lewis Wall et al., The Obstetric Vesicovaginal Fistula: Characteristics of 899
Patients from Jos, Nigeria 190 AM. J. OBSTET. & GYNECOL. 1011, 1011–16 (2004); D.P.
Ghatak, A Study of Urinary Fistulae in Sokoto, Nigeria, 90 J. INDIAN MED. ASS’N 285, 285-
87 (1992). Obstetric fistula is a hole in a woman’s birth canal from prolonged obstructed
labor which leaves her incontinent. See generally EngenderHealth, Module 6 – Obstetric
Fistula – Definition, Causes and Contributing Factors, and Impact on Affected Women,
ors_Fistula_Care.pdf (last accessed Oct. 28, 2013).
64. Fistula Foundation, Fast Facts & FAQ, http://www.fistulafoundation.org/about-
us/fast-facts-faq/ (last accessed Oct. 28, 2013).
65. UNFPA launches campaign on obstetric fistula in Africa (Nov. 2 2002),