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Of world’s 12.1 cr unplanned pregnancies every year, 1 in 7 occurs in India, says UNFPA report

UN Population Fund says India has made major inroads in sexual & reproductive health, but should address need for family planning/contraceptives, improve access to safe abortions.

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New Delhi: There are around 121 million or 12.1 crore unintended pregnancies across the world every year, and one in every seven of these occur in India, according to a report published by the United Nations Population Fund (commonly known by its old acronym, UNFPA).

According to this year’s ‘State of World Population Report’, which was published Wednesday, between 2015 and 2019, the number of unintended pregnancies around the world accounted for 48 per cent of all pregnancies. Moreover, 61 per cent of the unplanned pregnancies ended in induced abortion. 

Studies from India indicate that unintended pregnancy is associated with lower maternal healthcare utilisation and poorer infant and maternal health outcomes, the report stated, highlighting the need to focus on avoiding unintended pregnancies.

The report also said India’s key priority now is to address the need for family planning/contraceptives and improve access to safe abortions. It also flagged the country’s need to invest in research to better understand “the drivers and impacts of unintended pregnancy”.

“India has made major inroads in terms of sexual and reproductive health and rights. The population is stabilising, the number of preventable maternal deaths has reduced, and there is increased uptake of reversible and safe modern methods for family planning,” Andrea Wojnar, the UNFPA’s representative in India and country director for Bhutan, said in a statement. 

“However, the 2022 State of World Population Report brings to the fore the silent crises of unintended pregnancy… with more than one in seven cases of the 121 million cases worldwide occurring in India,” Wojnar noted.

“What is also concerning is that 67 per cent of abortions have been classified as unsafe, putting women and young girls at unnecessary risk,” she added.

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‘13% women in developing countries start childbearing before 18’

The report pointed out that not all teenage deliveries across the globe result from unintended pregnancies. According to research by the United Nations Population Division, majority of births by girls aged under 18 years took place within marriage, suggesting that many of those pregnancies could be classified as intended. 

However, young girls’ ability to decide when and with whom to have children is severely constrained.

The report further said that 13 per cent of women in developing countries begin childbearing before they turn 18. Three-quarters of young women have their first child at the age of 14 and the second before turning 20. Moreover, forty per cent of those who give birth twice go on to have a third child before turning 20. 

The UNFPA report has used country based surveys and datasets to arrive at its conclusions.

For example, according to data from India’s fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), 2019-21 conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in the 15-19 age group, there were 43 births per 1,000 women, a decline from 51 during the NFHS-4 (2015-16). 

A total of 23.3 per cent women aged 20-24 years were married before the age of 18, according to the NFHS-5.

NFHS-5 data also highlighted that teenage pregnancy has only marginally declined by 1 per cent, and 7.9 per cent women surveyed in the age group of 15-19 years were already mothers or pregnant at the time of the survey.

The uptake of family planning (FP) is skewed towards female sterilisation 37.9 per cent in NFHS-5, the UNFPA report stated.

Key priorities for India

The UNFPA report said the key priorities for India are to address the unmet need for family planning/contraceptives and improve access to safe abortion services including medical methods. 

“Expanding the reach and range of reversible contraceptives can prevent early pregnancy and pregnancies at short intervals jeopardising maternal and newborn health,” the authors state in their report. 

Data on why people stop using contraceptives should be collected, and analysis on the reasons for discontinuation should also be carried out. 

“This is a wakeup call. India can lead the way in reversing these numbers. There is a need to invest in research to better understand the drivers and impacts of unintended pregnancy,” Wojnar said. 

(Edited by Gitanjali Das) 

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