UNGA 78 Side Event: Empowering Adolescent Mothers in East and Southern Africa: A Path to Breaking Intergenerational Poverty

UNGA 78 Side Event: Empowering Adolescent Mothers in East and Southern Africa: A Path to Breaking Intergenerational Poverty
Source: © Emily Wolfe/GHRD


Emily Wolfe 

Human Rights Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence

Amid the bustling activities and discussions at the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, a special side event stood out, shedding light on a crucial but often overlooked issue—adolescent motherhood in East and Southern Africa. Hosted by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation at the Population Council, this event brought together organisations committed to children's rights and the prevention of violence, including the Children's Rights and Violence Prevention Fund, Children's Rights Innovation Fund, and UNICEF. The side event was a platform for amplifying the voices and experiences of adolescent mothers from Kenya, Mozambique, and Tanzania. These young mothers are not only essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, but also possess the resilience and determination needed to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

The event began by highlighting the diversity in adolescent motherhood across regions. In Bangladesh, for instance, one in six girls experiences pregnancy and motherhood, with over 60% using contraception. In Mexico, most adolescent mothers are in informal unions, shaping the circumstances that lead to motherhood. In Zambia, premarital pregnancy often drives unions, making programmes promoting education and better access to contraception critical.

The marginalisation of young mothers was a central theme. The ripple effect of their marginalisation extends to their children and communities. However, these young mothers possess a unique power. Despite facing stigma, shame, and isolation, they form a support network for each other, fostering a sense of belonging and community. Violence also emerged as a significant threat, sometimes leading to early motherhood. The systems designed to support young mothers often discriminate against them. The event emphasised the importance of recognising that young mothers are not hapless victims; they are strong individuals with the potential to drive change.

Empowering adolescent mothers was a key focus. These young women aspire to continue their education and provide for themselves and their children. They seek non-judgmental and accessible support. It's crucial to center opportunities for them to build their individual power and unite in solidarity for collective action within their communities. The event emphasised the need to focus on the most vulnerable young girls who are at the highest risk. Empowering them and building their power is essential to breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Providing parenting support and safe spaces for children, as well as economic empowerment for adolescent girls, were highlighted as critical steps.

While the ideal trajectory for girls may involve staying in school, avoiding early marriage, and delaying childbirth, the reality is different. Many girls deviate from this path due to various factors, including fragility, conflict, and violence. By addressing these challenges and harnessing the strength of adolescent mothers, we can pave the way for a brighter future, not only for them but for the generations that follow.

The event served as a poignant reminder that when we support and empower adolescent mothers, we take a significant step toward achieving the SDGs and breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, ensuring a world where all young women and their children can thrive.