Background situation on teenage mothers

In the EU, the age at which mothers give birth has on average increased by 2.6 % from 27.1 in 1980 to 29.7% in 2008. More than one third of children in the EU are born outside marriage. In certain countries, more children are born outside marriage than within it (Institute for Family Policies, 2009). In Malta, the most common age cohorts for women to become mothers are 25-29 and 30-34 amounting to 34 and 31 percent of births in 2008 (NSO, 2009a). However, according to the Perinatal Health Report (Department of Health Information and Research, 2008), of all women who gave birth in Malta in 2005, 5.8% were teenagers. This rate is considered to be on the higher end of the scale by the same report, the lower end being below 3 percent. From a different angle, the UNFPA State of World Population Report (2003) indicates that in 2002, Malta registered 12 births per 1000 women aged 15 to 19, similar to that of Austria and slightly higher than that of Germany (11) but lower than that of many other European countries.

Of all live births in 2008, one quarter were born outside marriage, an increase of almost 9 per cent from 2007 (NSO, 2009a), although this figure does not pertain only to teenage parenthood. The latest Demographic Review (NSO, 2009b) suggests that of all mothers who gave birth outside marriage in 2008 (1048), almost one-fourth (237) were younger than 20. The percentage of teenage fathers who had children outside marriage was much smaller (3%). 127 of all children born out of wedlock to teenage mothers were registered under unknown paternity.

It is pertinent to note that this phenomenon of teenage parenthood appears to be increasing at an alarming rate over the past few years hence the need for this project to be implemented. A report published in Malta Today in 2008 gives an indication of the rate at which pregnancies among very young unmarried mothers is increasing in Malta. According to the report, which is based on girl-mothers attending Ghozza educational unit, the number of girls attending the unit increased from 12 in 1989/90 to 174 in 2007. This means an exorbitant increase of almost 1500%. The report highlights a worrying increase among girl mothers since (i) it includes also those aged under 19 and (ii) it does not include those who continue attending a mainstream school especially if they are older teenagers attending post-secondary institutions. However, the report claims that 2005 registered a significant increase (55%) in 16 year olds becoming mothers. In addition to this Dar Guzeppa Debono has also registered an increase in the number of teenage single mothers. In 2005 the percentage of teenage mothers stood at 28% whilst in 2009 the figure went up to 42%.

Research from the UK, which has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Western Europe (Health Development Agency, 2003) indicates that certain factors increase the risk of becoming a parent before the age of 20. Young people from lower class backgrounds, homeless young people and those who are brought up in care, low educational achievers, children of teenage mothers, members of certain ethnic minorities and young people involved in crime and more likely to become parents in their teenage years. The same research review highlights a number of possible negative outcomes which may be experienced by young parents even though for some, parenthood may prove to be a positive experience which enriches their life. The report (Health Development Agency, 2003) cites evidence that young mothers may experience mental health problems. Apart from being more likely to have had problems at school prior to their pregnancy, young mothers are more likely to disrupt their education, obtain no qualifications by age 33, be welfare recipients and, if employed, to receive a lower income than their colleagues. Most teenage mothers tend to be single parents and are most likely to live in someone else’s household (80%) and would have to move house during pregnancy. Although research on young fathers is more sparse, it appears that their health, economic and employment outcomes are not dissimilar to those of their female counterparts.