Reproductive Health

India's Maternal Deaths Tied to Teen Moms' Anemia

Monday, March 21, 2011

A huge portion of Indian female teens from impoverished families are getting married off and giving birth while malnourished, helping to explain why India has the highest number of maternal deaths in the world. A few here find a way to beat the odds.

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Main Cause of Maternal Mortality

Anemia is the main direct cause of maternal mortality with 6,000 adolescent Indian mothers dying every year.

More women die in India due to childbirth or pregnancy-related causes than anywhere in the world.

India--home to the world's largest national population of adolescent girls--also has the dubious distinction of having the highest number of underweight girls in the world.

Hulshof said no single intervention can change this, but improving teens' access to an array of information, skills and services could save many lives.

Vanita was able to persuade her parents that she could earn more by gaining skills at the adolescent empowerment project, run free by the nongovernmental organization. Here, she improved her reading and writing skills, learnt about women's rights and sexual and reproductive health issues, including menstruation, conception and contraceptives, and was taught about the health implications of early marriage and pregnancy. She used this knowledge to convince her parents that marriage could wait until she completed her education and became economically independent.

Seeing her leadership skills, a year later CHETNA gave Vanita the responsibility of teaching what she'd learned to other young women in her community. Although she received a small honorarium for doing this, it was not the money that inspired Vanita to keep going.

One of her big efforts has been to debunk some harmful myths about sexual and reproductive health and to openly discuss menstruation, a topic that is still taboo in many parts of the country.

One big step forward was getting some of her peers to dry the cloth that they use during menstruation in sunlight to help sterilize it.

Vanita said the discussions were also helping young women challenge deep-rooted discrimination. Menstruating women, for instance, are widely considered impure during their periods and are prevented from entering the kitchen and religious places during that time of the month.

Now, Vanita and many other girls have stopped following that traditional practice.


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Swapna Majumdar is based in New Delhi, India, and writes about development, gender and politics.

For more information:

The State of the World's Children 2011:

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