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Nonmarital Childbearing

Nonmarital Childbearing In Developing Nations

Where strong cultural norms link marriage and fertility, nonmarital childbearing is likely to be especially visible among adolescents. Worldwide trends such as younger age of reproductive maturity, later age of marriage for women, improvements in women's reproductive (and overall) health, and changing social norms and attitudes have contributed to an increase in premarital sexual activity among adolescents. These trends are clearly visible for example, in Kenya, Ghana, Colombia, and Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). A common consequence of these trends is a high level of nonmarital fertility among adolescents. For example, in Botswana and Namibia, three-fourths of births to adolescents are nonmarital (Alan Guttmacher Institute 1998).

Several factors influence the prevalence of nonmarital childbearing among adolescents in developing nations. In some cultures, nonmarital childbearing among adolescents is a means to prove fertility and might even be a prerequisite to marriage (Alan Guttmacher Institute 1998). The prevalence of nonmarital childbearing among adolescents in developing nations also is influenced by the availability of modern contraceptive methods. Sexually active unmarried adolescents are more likely than those who are married to seek and use birth control. For example, in Côte d'Ivoire, 47 percent of unmarried adolescents use contraception whereas only 8 percent of married adolescents do so (Alan Guttmacher Institute 1998). The availability of reliable methods of contraception is not uniform across developing nations; moreover, cultural norms may deny contraceptive access to adolescents. A vast majority of sexually active adolescents in developing nations can, therefore, be at risk for nonmarital childbearing.

Research documenting trends in nonmarital childbearing in developing nations is inadequate for a comprehensive understanding. Some developing nations have strict norms against premarital and extramarital sexual activity, and, as a result, respondents may be unwilling to disclose nonmarital childbearing. In some developing countries (e.g., in North Africa and the Middle East), national surveys do not collect data on sexual activity among unmarried women, because cultural norms perpetuate the assumption that sexual activity is confined to marriage. In such nations, it is difficult to estimate the trends and patterns of nonmarital childbearing. However, it may be speculated that the level of nonmarital sexual activity is indeed low within developing nations, where there are strict cultural norms and taboos that regulate sexual activity. For example, less than 10 percent of adolescents in India reported being sexually active during adolescence (Alan Guttmacher Institute 1998).

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