Mind the Gap: A Commentary on Data Gaps and Opportunities for Action in Meeting the Contraceptive Needs of Adolescents

Today, there are 1.2 billion adolescents aged 10-19 living across the world. As the generation of the future it is our collective responsibility to empower them with the tools they need to thrive, and doing so is central to achieving the Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) and Sustainable Development Goals. Understanding and meeting their sexual and reproductive health needs is critical, yet most adolescents don’t have the information and services they need to realize their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

  • Of the 252 million adolescent women aged 15–19 living in developing regions in 2016, an estimated 38 million are sexually active and do not want a child in the next two years.
  • And yet, 60% of the 38 million adolescents who are married or unmarried and sexually active and who do not want to get pregnant are not using modern contraceptives.
  • About half of pregnancies among adolescent women aged 15–19 living in developing regions are unintended and more than half of these end in abortion, often under unsafe conditions.

If we do not improve information and services for these adolescents, particularly in Africa and Asia where unmet need for contraception is highest, an entire generation may miss the opportunity to take control over their bodies and their destinies. Enabling all adolescents (married and unmarried and those with and without children) to avoid unintended pregnancy and the adverse consequences will reap savings in maternal and child health care, boost young women’s education and economic prospects, and give them the opportunity to reach their full potential.