About 1,200 students attend Marshall Islands High School, the largest public school in the country. The teen pregnancy level among its senior class is higher than the national average, the second highest in the Pacific region. Photo: Wilmer Joel

MAJURO, 31 JANUARY 2022 (MARSHALL ISLANDS JOURNAL) — The teenage birth rate in the Marshall Islands is the second highest in the Pacific islands and has remained virtually the same over the past five years.

According to the World Bank, the Solomon Islands has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the Pacific at 79 births per 1,000 teenage young women. The Marshall Islands’ rate was 60 births per 1,000 in 2021.

For the five years from 2017 through 2021, the number of births by teenagers in the Marshall Islands amounted to either 14 or 15 percent of total births for the country, according to statistics provided by the Ministry of Health and Human Services.

What this means in terms of impact can be seen at Marshall Islands High School (MIHS), the country’s largest public secondary school with a student population of about 1,200. A significant number of pregnancies are affecting girls in the senior class at the school this year, according to data provided by the school.

A total of 12 girls in the senior class of 130 girls were or are pregnant this school year. MIHS does not expel students for pregnancy as some schools here have done in the past. It provides a 10-day period off from school for delivery and encourages them to complete their schooling.

The 12 pregnancies out of 130 senior girls extrapolates to 92 births per 1,000, 50 percent higher than the national teen birth rate. One of the girls has so far dropped out of school due to her pregnancy.

In 2017, of the 994 babies born in the Marshall Islands, 147 were to mothers 19 years and younger (including three to mothers younger than 15). In 2020, 1,002 babies were born. Of these, 148 were to mothers 19 and under, including five to teens under 15, the most in this age group in at least five years.

The country’s teen pregnancy rate per 1,000 women 19-and-under was 60 in 2021, a drop from the year before when it was 66.

The World Bank reports that after the Solomon Islands and the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea has the next highest rate at 51 per 1,000.  Fiji and Vanuatu follow at 49 and 48, respectively, the World Bank said.

While these five nations have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the Pacific, these rates are far from the world’s highest. The world’s 25 highest teenage birth rates are all in African countries. Niger has a world’s highest rate at 203 births per 1,000 teenage girls. Number 25 is the Central African Republic, which has a rate of 93 — well above the rate in the Solomon Islands…. PACNEWS

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