‘The Unseen Crisis’: Half the Pregnancies in the World Are Unplanned Finds UNFPA

60 percent of these unintended pregnancies in India end in abortion.

3 min read

Forty-eight percent of all pregnancies in the world are unintended, reveals a new report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)— the sexual and reproductive health agency of the United Nations.

The State of World Population Report also found that 60 percent of these unintended pregnancies end up in, often unsafe, abortions, making it a 'global health crisis'.

The UNFPA clarifies that the data doesn't focus on 'happy accidents', or unwanted pregnancies. Rather, the report is intended to throw light on the lack of reproductive choice that women across the world wield due to a combination of socio-economic factors.

"In many respects, unintended pregnancy can be seen as a cause and result of gender discrimination. It often occurs because of gaps in gender equality and agency."
The State of World Population Report, UNFPA

Some of the most common causes of unintended pregnancies that the UNFPA lists are,

  • Rape, or sexual coercion by a stranger or someone at home.

  • Lack of awareness because of poor sex education at schools. (A young girl may assume pregnancy is a default option because she lacks opportunities and choices.)

  • Pressure from family to get pregnant despite not being ready to.

  • Contraceptives may be inaccessible, unaffordable or unavailable

  • Fear of contraceptives due to poor sex education and misinformation.

  • Shame, and stigma attached to the use of contraceptives.

  • Unhelpful Health providers who perpetuate the stigma.

  • Not having the choice to use contraceptives because their partner wouldn't allow it.

Unintended pregnancies can do lasting damage to the wellbeing of both the mother, the child, but communities, and also the nation's health care system.

Girl children are often pulled out of school by their families or are forced to discontinue their education.

As far as slightly older women are concerned, they are often forced to exit the workforce, which can in turn impact the household's earnings.

Unintended pregnancies have an impact on women's mental health and can leave them more vulnerable.

"Studies from India indicate that unintended pregnancy is associated with lower maternal health care utilization and poorer infant and maternal health outcomes."
The State of World Population Report, UNFPA

The Situation in India: Key Insights

Unsafe abortions are one of the top causes of maternal deaths in India.

Of all unintended pregnancies in the world that happen each year, more than one in seven happen in India.

Lack of bodily autonomy

In India, gathering data on unintended pregnancies can be really difficult because more of them– even most pregnancies in girls under 18 – happen among married women.

  • 13 percent of all young women in developing countries began childbearing.

  • Three-quarters of girls who had a first child below the age of 14 had a second child before turning 20.

  • 40 percent of girls with two children went on to have a third birth before turning 20.

  • More than half of the additional births (after the first birth) to adolescent mothers were rapid repeat births (occurred within 24 months of a previous birth.)

"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."
Andrea Wojnar, UNFPA India Representative and Bhutan Country Director

Unsafe Abortions

Although India's maternal mortality rate (MMR) has improved, it still remains high in many states.

Although the amendment made to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act of 1971, has expanded the access to safe and legal abortion services to women in India, unsafe abortion remains the third leading cause of maternal mortality in the country.

"Close to 8 women die from causes related to unsafe abortion each day."
The State of World Population Report, UNFPA

Going Forth: The Road Ahead

To address the 'unseen crisis' of unintended pregnancies and their repercussions, India would first have to address the issue of the pressing need for family planning and contraceptives, as well as improve access to safe abortions.

Stigma and taboo associated with sexual health, sex education and contraceptives is another barrier that we would need to overcome.

"Sexual reproductive health services should be gender-responsive and stigma free. And addressing negative social norms should be the need of the hour.”
Andrea Wojnar, UNFPA India Representative and Bhutan Country Director

"There is a need to invest in research to better understand the drivers and impacts of unintended pregnancy. Women and men - everyone - should have access to contraceptives that work for their bodies and circumstances,"she added.

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