Girls are at greater risk of early pregnancy when they become refugees. Rights abuses that lead to girls becoming pregnant such as child marriage and sexual abuse also increase when girls are forced to flee their homes.
In addition, girls' access to sexual and reproductive health information and services is reduced. As a result, the already considerable health risks associated with childbirth for girls are multiplied.
These stories from our #childmothers exhibition illustrate why girls’ specific needs must be addressed during emergency responses.
“Here it’s hard for a girl to say no”
Lumilene*, 15, lives with her daughter Clairina*, 6 months, in a camp for internally displaced people in Haiti. She has lived there since the earthquake in 2010.
“Our house was destroyed and now we've lived here for 5 years. I met a boy who became my boyfriend but we’re not together anymore. I was 14 when I discovered I was pregnant. I wanted to get rid of the baby but my mom didn’t agree.
some of the girls trade sex for money and food
“For 4 months, I threw up all the time. I had to stop going to school. After more than 24 hours in labour, I finally gave birth. The hospital didn’t give me any pain relief. They just used scissors and made a cut. It took time for me to heal. I couldn’t walk and my whole body ached.
“I'm back in school, in the eighth grade. I'm not the only girl in school who is a mother. Unfortunately, most young girls here have parents that are very poor. I'm told some of the girls trade sex for money and food.
“Violence isn’t unusual, I have friends who've been abused. I’ve learned that you shouldn't joke with men and never become their friend. Once you're their friend, they can do whatever they want to you. Here, it's hard for a girl to say no.”
“My life is now about my children”
Zainab*, 15, lives with her children Bilal*, 2, and Karima*, 8 months, in a refugee camp for displaced Syrians in Jordan.
“My husband and I got married in 2013. He’s 12 years older than me.
I gave birth here in a camp clinic
“I used to go to school in my country, but we left because of the situation there. Now we live in a camp. I take care of my children and husband, cook, clean and fetch water.
“Thankfully, I had no complications during my pregnancy, thank God. When I had problems, we got help from an organisation that taught us more about being a mother.
“Before, I didn’t know anything about these things. I’d like to use contraception but I haven’t done it yet. I’ve heard that some of them have side effects so I got scared.
"I gave birth here in a camp clinic. It’s a bit difficult to be a mother. My life now is about my children. I have a responsibility to take care of my children, my husband and my home. That’s it.”
Plan International is advocating globally to ensure the specific needs and rights of girls are addressed in disasters policy and programmes. This includes changing attitudes that result in early pregnancy and providing sexual and reproductive health services.
Photos by Pieter ten Hoopen
*Names changed for child protection.